It’s disappointing to read that the Landmark feels Brookfield Zoo is being overly aggressive in trying to keep the zoo accessible and financially stable.
We admit we work hard to ensure that we tightly control our budgets and expenses while providing a quality experience for our guests and the highest level of care for our animals. But when challenged by the prospect of a 150-percent water rate increase or a $500,000 amusement tax, we do what the public expects of us and we take responsible actions to contain costs and save jobs.
Take for example the proposed legislation to clarify state law and to preserve zoo jobs. With jobs on the line, a bipartisan effort was launched by members of the Illinois General Assembly, Teamsters Local 727, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Museums in the Park, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and others to pass a bill that would prevent further layoffs at Brookfield Zoo.
The Illinois Senate unanimously passed the legislation. The bill now has 60 co-sponsors in the House.
The legislation is needed since the village of Brookfield wants to impose a new amusement tax that would divert a portion of the zoo’s admissions away from the zoo and into the municipal fund, despite an existing state law that prohibits such an action.
Since Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934, admission proceeds have supported zoo maintenance and operations as required by state law. Brookfield Zoo is one of the few cultural institutions in the state to have an Illinois statute establish the manner in which its primary revenue must be spent.
The new tax would cost Brookfield Zoo at least $500,000 a year, a serious challenge when we face a $1.3 million budget deficit for 2010 and historically low staffing levels. In contrast, the village of Brookfield reported at its most recent board meeting that the village has a balanced budget this year and in 2011.
Public support and generous donors help make Brookfield Zoo largely self-sufficient, and enable us to support the region’s economy and the village of Brookfield. For example, the zoo annually supports the village with more than $200,000 in direct cash revenue, $3.7 million in economic activity, jobs for 145 residents and a stabilization effect for home values. Our contributions can also be found in Brookfield’s library and in local school classrooms.
Yes, we have worked to tell our neighbors and our members about these and the many other contributions the zoo makes that are often overlooked or under-reported but that significantly contribute to the quality of life in this area.
Furthermore, with more than 80 percent of zoo guests arriving on state and county roads, and having our own police force, internal water and sewer infrastructure, ambulance service and other amenities, our use of village services is minimal in comparison to our economic impact on Brookfield and the surrounding region.
We are proud of our contributions to our community, and we are committed to being good citizens as well as a world-class conservation and educational institution that area residents are proud to have as a neighbor.
Stuart D. Strahl is president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo.