Who Will Run the Zoo?

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The new tiger cubs at Lansing's Potter Park Zoo are celebrating their first birthday Sunday.

By the time they their second comes around, the zoo could be a very different place.

"From what I've seen, we would have to get rid of probably a quarter of our animals," Potter Park Zoological Society Executive Director Diane McNeil said.

That is if Lansing doesn't find a 'new' way to fund the park that's functioned as a zoo for more than 85 years.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has proposed finding a new funding source for the zoo -- namely, Ingham County.

Some county commissioners appear receptive to the idea of the county taking over funding.

"70 percent of the folks who visit the zoo are not from the City of Lansing. So it makes sense to take a regional approach," Commissioner Andy Schor said.

Schor, of Lansing, says a regional approach could mean a countywide millage, along with higher entrance fees and, in light of the state's recent $4 million bailout of the Detroit Zoo, possible state funding.

The county board's chairman, Victor Celentino, says saving the zoo is critical.

"If it means we put an issue on the ballot in Ingham County so the whole county supports this regional zoo, yes, that's a discussion I welcome. And I'll probably support that kind of regionalism," Celentino said.

Celentino, of Lansing Township, and Schor say they need much more information before they could move forward with any millage request.

Folding city employees into the county workforce could prove a thorny issue, they said.

But some commissioners are more skeptical than others.

"I'm not in favor of (a millage) right now," Commissioner Mike Severino said.

Severino, of Holt, says there could be a way to have the county fund the zoo with higher fees and greater efficiency -- and not a new millage.

Schor says he understands potential concerns about higher taxes.

"You can promote this as regional cooperation, but it still is a tax increase," he said.

Amid all the debate, McNeil says she wants some stability for the zoo.

"I would just hope that the zoo would be able to withstand the hit at least until we are given the opportunity to have the Ingham County voters say something," she said.

Celentino and Schor say if they can get the information they need from the city, the measure could be on the November ballot.

-- in Lansing and Lansing Township, Tony Tagliavia, News 10.