THE LANDMARK VIEW
The latest dust up between the village of Brookfield and Brookfield Zoo is being portrayed in some quarters as a battle between good and evil. Nasty old Brookfield wants to squeeze a cash cow of a tourist attraction of money that ought to be used to educate children and conserve species for posterity.
Let’s be honest here. Brookfield is looking out for its own financial interests here, while the Chicago Zoological Society is doing the same thing. So far it’s been a mismatch, mainly because the zoo has the ability to crank up a public relations campaign that the village can’t match.
After a proposed amusement tax, the zoo rallied the troops to pack a public meeting and get the village to back down. With its tail between its legs, the village then tried to work out a municipal services agreement whereby they’d receive compensation from the zoo for services the village provides – everything from roads to police and fire protection.
When the price tag for that came to $375,000 annually – and facing a separate increase in water charges – the zoo balked, claiming that the institution doesn’t really rely on the village for much of anything, while providing countless benefits to the ungrateful village.
The village response to that claim was to raise the zoo’s water rates, which resulted in swift condemnation by the zoo, more e-mail blasts pounding the village and sympathetic articles and commentary in Chicago’s daily media, which has a soft spot in its heart for all things fauna and just a cursory understanding of what the issues are here.
But in asking the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission to bypass the village and hook up the zoo’s water supply directly to the commission’s pipes, the zoo may have overreached.
The commission, formed in 1938, counts the village of Brookfield as its biggest customer. And a good deal of the storage capacity of the system, including Brookfield’s own water tower, was built with public funds in part to accommodate the zoo’s vast requirements for water.
The zoo has proposed receiving water from the commission at cost without having to pay for that additional infrastructure. While the village may be seeking to prize a little money from the zoo’s coffers, the zoo is likewise proposing to pay a cut rate for water. Everyone else can pay for the commission’s infrastructure.
This game of chicken needs to stop. The two sides ought to agree on the separate deal for water that has been offered by the village and go back to the drawing board on any other kind of municipal services deal.
The village should not stop attempting to find a way to leverage the existence of the zoo to help its revenue position. At the same time, it can’t depend on the zoo to solve its problems, which are systemic and can only be fixed with a long-term solution.
At some point the village is going to have to make a sales pitch to its residents and convince them to pay more in taxes to maintain services. It has always been thus.