When the Chicago Zoological Society and the Village of Brookfield battled it out over a possible amusement tax last fall, one thing seemed clear. There was no way the society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, was ever going to pay Brookfield a nickel as a result of imposing such a tax.

Zoo officials claimed such a tax was unconstitutional and went so far as to lobby the state legislature – successfully, it turned out – to craft a law outlawing the village from imposing such a tax.

But in mid-February, Village Manager Riccardo Ginex received in the mail a check from the Chicago Zoological Society in the amount of $19,579.75. According to a tax statement included with the check, the amount reflected 78,319 visitors to the zoo for the dates Dec. 23, 2010 to Jan. 31, 2011, inclusive.

In a letter accompanying the check, Kenneth Kaduk, the society’s senior vice president of finance and administration, stated that the sum represented “the payment purportedly due under the Amusement-Tax Ordinance.”

Both in the letter and on the check itself, Kaduk noted that the society was paying the tax “under protest.”

“Please understand that the Chicago Zoological Society submits this tax return, and the accompanying payment, under protest, and without waiver of any right to challenge the legality of the tax, or seek recovery of the payment, at some later time.”

In other words, think twice about cashing the check. Last week, Village President Michael Garvey confirmed that the check had been deposited in the bank. Brookfield also deposited another $22 from Brixie’s Saloon, the village’s 25-cent-per-head cut of cover charges the bar collects when bands play there.

Garvey has contended all along that the village had every right to impose the tax and still believes the tax is valid, even though Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law prohibiting it in early February.

Asked for his reaction to the zoo’s payment, Garvey said, “I’m taking it in the spirit of cooperation that they’re working with us.”

Garvey said he wasn’t worried about the zoo’s threat of future action to reclaim the payment.

“They’re trying to protect their legal options,” he said.

Garvey noted he has resumed private talks with zoo officials, including Stuart Strahl, the zoo’s president and CEO. The village it appears is still trying to negotiate a municipal services agreement with the zoo, whereby the Chicago Zoological Society would pay a fee for services the village provides, such as fire and police protection, snow-plowing and the like.

“We’ve had several productive meetings on this ordinance and other issues,” Garvey said. “There are still disagreements on some specific issues, but we’re still neighbors – I still say they are the world’s greatest zoo – and one way or another, we’ll find a way to work together.”

Attempts by the Landmark to reach zoo officials for comment prior to press time were unsuccessful.