With bad economy, zoo can renew itself

By By Aaron Shaddy

By Aaron Shaddy

In case you cover your eyes to avoid the political lawn signs on your way to school each day, there’s an initiative to “Renew the Zoo.” The Salt Lake County Council is asking for $33 million, which they say will cost an average taxpayer 39 cents a month. Sounds good. No one notices 39 cents, and to boot, the animals get new homes and parents get new animals to feed their children to. Awesome.

Of course, with the economy wailing and everyone wondering8212;students included8212;whether they’ll have a decent job in a couple years, one has to consider if this is the best time to throw down a cool $33 million on Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

The initiative argues yes, it is actually a better time. Local residents have seen food and gas prices go up, and families are more likely to take their kids to local entertainment than have a costly out-of-state vacation. Fair enough8212;that certainly is a good argument, and just about anyone can empathize with how hard it can be to entertain children.

Indeed, according to the Utah Hogle Zoo Web site, so many people are coming in, they’ve witnessed a 54 percent increase in attendance in the past five years, with an all-time record of 954,551 visitors in 2007. Wow, they really are getting a lot of people8212;and money.

Supposing that the bulk of those visitors are children at an admission of about $6 a head, the zoo made a low-end estimate of some $5.7 million last year. Moreover, the zoo has raised another $7.4 million to complement the proposed initiative.

The zoo has money, they’re raising money and if they raised the price of admission at the door8212;rather than raise it in peoples’ taxes8212;they’d get more money just the same, and it’d probably be more efficient without a government middle man.

No one, not even the biggest miser, cares what happens to 39 cents. But it seems unnecessary. The Hogle Zoo will still be there. It’s fundraising on its own, and it is making money from high attendance. It could raise its own price of admission to pay for new expansions. No one cares about 39 cents, but giving money to every organization that asks for it is a concern for penny-pinchers.

It seems a little silly to suppose this is the only way it can be done. I’ll be voting no on “Renew the Zoo,” because as it turns out, the zoo can, and is already, renewing itself.

[email protected]

Aaron Shaddy