THE LANDMARK VIEW
While a zoo official wouldn’t explicitly say whether the Chicago Zoological Society would file a lawsuit against the village of Brookfield in the wake of that’s board’s decision to impose an amusement tax on Monday night, everyone knows where this is headed.
Our guess is that by this time next week, we’ll have a story in the paper about the zoo seeking a temporary restraining order against the village followed by a lawsuit arguing that the village’s action is illegal.
Since the new amusement tax, which seeks to charge 25 cents for each paid admission, is slated to go into effect on Dec. 23, expect the zoo to act fast. Whether the village will end up seeing a dime from the new tax will be up to a judge, no doubt.
But the zoo continues its darndest to sway public opinion. The latest salvo came late Monday afternoon after the Landmark announced on the web that the amusement tax would be on the village board agenda that night.
The zoo issued a press release stating financial woes were forcing the zoo to cut 11 positions, vacate two animal exhibit areas and cut the pay for its top employees among other things. The village’s amusement tax was specifically mentioned as a contributing factor.
But Village President Michael Garvey is correct when he states that the zoo’s financial picture is “irrelevant” when it came to Brookfield’s decision to impose the tax on all amusements within the village (there are more than the zoo, after all).
The village has a duty to seek revenue sources to provide essential services to residents. The economic downturn has meant less revenue for the village. From 2008 to 2009, the village of Brookfield saw its total revenues fall by more than $1 million.
Pinning the zoo layoffs announced yesterday to the amusement tax is simply misdirection. The layoffs were announced prior to the decision to impose the tax. Connecting it to the amusement tax may be a convenient way of scapegoating the village, but we believe the layoffs were coming anyway, based on the zoo’s own financial numbers, which are not yet public. Zoo officials claim there will be a $1.3 million “budget shortfall” in 2010, a year in which there was no amusement tax.
Whether “budget shortfall” and “operating loss” mean the same thing is yet to be seen. While there may be a budget shortfall, the zoo still could be on the plus side in the operating income department.
The zoo, for example, certainly fell short of its revenue goals in 2009 when it took in $4 million less than it did in 2008. But according to its 2009 audit, the zoo’s operating income amounted to $5.6 million.
A good portion of that, more than $4 million was transferred to the zoo’s capital projects fund, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the zoo had a good year in 2009.
The upshot is this: Both the zoo and the village need to look out for their own financial interests. No one criticizes the zoo for doing all it can to safeguard its interests. But to demonize the village for doing the same things is just wrong.
If the tax is unconstitutional, we’ll know when the inevitable suit is settled. If not, we’d encourage Riverside, which is also home to a portion of the zoo’s property, to do the exact same thing.