Exclusive: Zoo Could Add .46 Mills to Tax Bills

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The animals at Lansing's Potter Park Zoo could have new masters come this fall -- new masters at the county, rather than at city hall.

A new draft document obtained by News 10 shows the Ingham County Board is considering putting a millage of up to .46 mills on November's ballot. That would mean as much as an extra $46 for someone with a $100,000 home.

The money, up to $3.1 million in the first year according to the draft, would go toward operations at the zoo, which the county would manage through a lease from the city. But before the county goes forward, it wants the city council's support, according to the document.

"The zoo is really utilized by far more people than live in the city. So it makes sense to have a broader tax base to support it," Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar said Monday night.

Dunbar says she's behind the general idea of the millage. Councilwoman Sandy Allen, Councilwoman Joan Bauer and Councilman Tim Kaltenbach say the same.

But the plan needs five votes on the council to move forward -- and some on the council have reservations.

"I don't believe I'm close enough to a decision based on the information that's before us," Councilwoman Carol Wood said.

Councilmen Brian Jeffries and Randy Williams agree: There are too many questions left unanswered at this point.

And Council President Harold Leeman says he doesn't like the plan put forward by the county, because, he says, the city needs to retain more control of the zoo.

But Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a longtime supporter of a regional zoo tax, says it's time for the idea to go forward.

"We're talking about maintaining the gem that [the zoo] is but maybe changing the insignia. The sign -- might put a county seal on it. I see no problem with that," Bernero said.

The county could decide to ask voters if they want to see the county seal on the zoo as early as next week.

Under the rules outlined in the draft document, if the county goes ahead with the proposal, the idea would have to go on city council for approval before voters would see it on the November ballot.