Village of Brookfield and Chicago Zoological Society officials are expected to meet again either this week or next, according to Village President Michael Garvey, as they try to hammer out an agreement that will boost village revenues while avoiding a tax that the zoo is vigorously opposing.
The two sides met for the second time on July 9 behind closed doors at the village hall. Present for the meeting were Garvey, Village Attorney Richard Ramello and Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral along with zoo officials Matt Mayer, vice president of government affairs; Ken Kaduk, senior vice president for finance and administration; Randy Vickery, secretary for the zoological society’s board of trustees; and Dennis White, chief attorney for the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
“We’re looking at whether we can come to an agreement for revenue support for unreimbursed services provided to them,” said Garvey, who declined to specify the issues being negotiated.
One issue the society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, clearly wants off the table is a proposed amusement tax. The tax, which would have affected Brookfield Zoo more than any other business in the village, could add a 3-percent charge to everything from ticket sales to memberships, party rentals and parking.
Such a tax could produce an estimated $500,000 or more per year in annual revenue for the village.
Garvey said the amusement tax has not been ruled out, “but because there might be other alternatives, we’re not moving forward with it at this point.”
“They’re looking to see what expenses we have that aren’t reimbursed as an alternative,” Garvey said.
Village officials were to have discussed the imposition of such a tax on June 28, but Garvey pulled the issue off the table to defuse a potentially hostile response from more than 100 zoo employees, volunteers and supporters who packed the board room in response to an e-mail from Stuart Strahl, the zoo’s CEO, calling for a public protest.
Immediately prior to the June 28 board meeting, village and zoo officials met for the first time.
Garvey said the village has a number in mind that they’d like to see the zoo hit for service reimbursements in exchange for dropping the amusement tax, but declined to state exactly what the figure is.
“We believe it’s rationally related to unreimbursed expenditures,” Garvey said. “We’re not looking for the zoo to solve all of our budget problems.”
At the board’s meeting on June 12, Garvey in particular was called out for keeping the public in the dark about the details of his meetings with zoo officials. Steven Campbell, a Riverside resident and frequent critic of village officials who owns a number of commercial and residential properties in town, also accused Garvey of allowing the zoo to take advantage of the village.
“It seems the zoo gets special favors that only fall in one direction,” Campbell said. “It all flows to the zoo and never flows back.”
Garvey responded that the meetings were being held in private to avoid the type of heated rhetoric Campbell displayed.
“I think it’s more productive to have negotiations going on behind the scenes,” Garvey said. “It’s a give and take on both sides.”