Greater Akron Chamber: Support Akron Zoo, vote for Issue 47

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In November, voters will have a lot of important decisions to make. Among those, Summit County voters will be asked to renew and expand their support for the Akron Zoo. An economic return of $8 to our community for every $1 of support the Akron Zoo receives is one of many reasons we believe the economic development impact of the zoo merits the investment by our community. As such, the Greater Akron Chamber recommends a vote “For” Summit County Issue 47.

There is a lot more information about the zoo, its operations and its services on the website for the campaign at www.voteakronzoo.org. We would encourage voters to get acquainted with these facts. Here are just a few:

  • About 50% of the zoo’s budget is supported by public funding through the levy. Akron’s zoo, like most other zoos across the country, relies on public support. As an organization that drives the quality of life, supports STEM education and ecology in our region and draws visitors from around the community and beyond, this public support is critical.
  • A part of our endorsement was a look into the zoo’s financial position. The zoo’s board and staff have consistently been fiscally conservative in their approach to investment, expansion and operating expenses. Every seven years they must ask for a renewal of that support. While it has been noted in other commentary that they are “flush” with $74 million in assets, that’s a significant mischaracterization. A majority of those assets represent the value of the buildings, grounds and equipment to operate the zoo. The balance of cash supports their emergency operating reserve and dollars dedicated for planned facility investments and maintenance. The resources they are requesting are necessary for their continued operations and to support the animals in their care.
  • Since receiving public funding in 2001, the zoo’s annual attendance has more than quadrupled, it has added 32 animal habitats and other guest amenities and substantially increased its educational programming to over 80 school districts in Northeast Ohio.
  • Of the zoo’s more than 400,000 visitors a year, 60% of them are from outside of Summit County, making it one of the largest attractions in Northeast Ohio. The levy support sustains the Zoo and makes its benefits more accessible to more people.
  • Of the total request, a third of the millage represents an increase to what is already being provided to the zoo through the current levy. The requested increase is the first increase in over 20 years and would allow the zoo to focus a higher percentage of its overall budget on maintaining animal habitats, repairing aging infrastructure and making capital improvements. The levy will allow the zoo’s development to continue alongside other community assets that are supporting increased investment and growth in Greater Akron. The additional resources will support the increased cost of operations, the ability to provide exceptional care for the animals and protect wildlife and support the continued growth of its educational mission.

If Greater Akron is to remain competitive with a quality of life for our residents and as a destination for talent and visitors, assets like the Akron Zoo are an important part of the mix. In addition, the economic, educational and ecological benefits the Akron Zoo brings to our region merit our investment. The Greater Akron Chamber urges you to support the levy for the Akron Zoo at the polls on Nov. 3.

Steve Millard is president and CEO of Greater Akron Chamber.

By: Steve Millard, guest commentator for Akron Beacon Journal

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