An opinion piece published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sept. 10 had a tone to sensationalize information regarding our upcoming levy as well as containing some inaccuracies. Along with being a supportive community partner, the Akron Zoo has been, and will continue to be, a good steward of financial resources. It is in moments like this that we are able to rely on our past actions as a predictor of our future behavior. We have a solid track record for living and breathing our mission, to connect the lives of people in our community to wildlife by inspiring lifelong learning and conservation action. We have consistently aligned with this mission in a way that has been fiscally responsible and supportive of the residents of Summit County while also driving significant economic returns across the county.
The Sept. 10 article contained inaccuracies, and excluded some critical information that would have provided clarity and transparency to the reader. For example, the article led a false inference that the zoo’s support of conservation programs is supported through taxpayer funds. Actually, all funding for local and global conservation programs comes from earned revenue through a percentage of gate revenues and philanthropic donations, not taxpayer funds. This support of conservation programming provides authenticity to our STEM education programming in a way that is not provided elsewhere in our community, and connects all aspects of our mission.
The Akron Zoo’s proposed levy is a renewal of 0.8 mill and a 0.4 mill increase. To clarify the numbers, which were provided to the zoo by the county fiscal office, the 0.8 mill calculates to $21.08 a year per $100,000 and the 0.4 mill calculates to $14 a year per $100,000. This equals $2.92 per month, totaling $35 a year per $100,000 in home value. The cost on the 0.8 mill is less per mill because of state of Ohio tax credits that apply to the renewal portion of the levy. The levy support makes up 50% of the zoo’s overall revenue, the other 50% comes from philanthropic support and earned revenue. Levy funds support science-based education programs, animal care, park operations and future growth.
The article also included salary comparisons that were “apples to oranges” in that the comparisons excluded the benefits package from the keeper salary example and included the benefits package in the executive salaries resulting in inflated perceived disparities. All salaries at the Akron Zoo are based on market comparisons for similar positions in similar markets and reviewed by an external third party for accuracy. The members of the executive team have 145 years of management and professional experience combined. The Akron Zoo is fortunate to attract talented people from our front line staff to our executive team that are passionate about the mission of the Akron Zoo, the health and well-being of our planet and our community.
Since 2011, the Akron Zoo has generated economic activity and fiscal benefits of over $581 million across Summit County, generating nearly $8 in economic impact for every $1 of public support received. Passage of the Akron Zoo levy will help the zoo continue to provide science and STEM educational programs for our school-aged children. For example, in 2019 the zoo reached nearly 38,000 Summit County residents and 15 of the 17 Summit County public school districts with STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics) programs. Currently the Akron Zoo’s economic activity is supporting nearly 800 jobs across the county, as well as those physically employed by the zoo. Passage of the levy will help the Akron Zoo provide jobs and continue to spur local economic activity which promotes community revitalization.
In closing, our Akron Zoo will continue being a good corporate citizen, and a community gem that benefits Summit County by creating memorable experiences and building a stronger community through both on- and off-site education programs for our youth, engaging conservation action and being an economic engine embedded inside the arts and culture landscape of our community.
By: Michele Santana, Chair of the Akron Zoo Board of Directors, Akron Beacon Journal