In 2000, the Akron Zoo first sought public support in the form of a property tax levy. Voters gave their overwhelming approval. Six years later, they responded the same to a renewal request. Now the zoo is back with Issue 3 on the Summit County ballot asking voters to say yes again. What the zoo continues to have in its favor is a record of achievement and sound management, having fulfilled its promises, proving appropriately ambitious, innovative and fun.
We recommend a vote for Issue 3 on Nov. 5.
Voters should know that as in 2006, the zoo is proposing a 0.8-mill, seven-year renewal levy, in other words, not a tax increase, the owner of a house valued at $100,000 still paying $23 a year.
Perhaps the opening of the Grizzly Ridge exhibit in July captures best the high quality of the zoo. Pat Simmons, the president and chief executive, and her team kept their pledge to deliver such a major exhibit. The result reflects their listening to the community, those surveyed wanting to see animals of Ohio, past and present, among other things, grizzly bears, otters, wolves and bald eagles. More, the exhibit sustains the intimacy that has been distinctive about the Akron Zoo.
The zoo is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and for half of that time, Simmons has been at the helm. As part of weighing the levy request, it is worth noting how she has elevated the organization. Attendance has climbed as the zoo has been enhanced, going from roughly 100,000 in 1997 to more than 330,000 last year (before Grizzly Ridge). The zoo has expanded dramatically the number of animals and exhibits. It has played a leading role in species survival and conservation.
Community engagement has been a first purpose, from restorative gardens at its peak to a variety of programs, including Senior Safari, ZooCamp and Backpack Adventure, the last bringing disadvantaged students to the zoo, part of an emphasis on education. Add that the zoo has been a good neighbor, its presence and resources contributing to improvements on the city’s near west side.
Looking ahead, Simmons and other zoo officials promise more of the appealing same, seeking ways to get better, holding to a strategy of “pay as you go” to avoid any debt burden, in short, thoughtful and effective stewardship. Issue 3 should be an easy choice for voters. The Akron Zoo is a bargain and deserving of support on Election Day.