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Summit County Voters To Consider Renewal, Increase For Akron Zoo Levy

The Akron Zoo is seeking a levy increase for the first time in its 67-year history. Summit County Issue 47 would support operations and maintenance.

The original 0.8-mill levy was instated in 2000, and has been renewed without any increases for the past two decades. This year’s 0.4-mill levy addition would help cover the expansion of facilities and educational programming.

The 10-year levy renewal and increase would bring in an estimated $13 million a year at the zoo.

“It really is very challenging for us to be able to manage the animal care and make sure the animals don’t know there’s a pandemic,” said Zoo Vice President of Communications Linda Criss.

If approved, Criss said, voters won’t hear from the zoo about levies until it is set to expire. Under the new total levy amount, Summit County homeowners would pay $2.92 a month on their property tax bill for each $100,000 in valuation.

The decision to place the levy on the ballot was made more than a year ago, well before the coronavirus pandemic began, Criss said.

“We recognize the timing is not ideal because of the pandemic,” Criss said. “However, we have to go through an entire, very long process to be allowed on the ballot.”

Like so many arts and cultural venues, the pandemic has had a big impact on the zoo’s revenue and funding, Criss said. The property was closed to the public for a few months and attendance is now limited to prevent coronavirus spread. But even during the closure, the animals still needed care and feeding, which required staff and spending.

“Unlike many other types of industry, we can’t go home and come back when it’s over,” Criss said. “We have to be here day in and day out.”

Outreach related to Issue 47 has also had to adapt during the pandemic, Criss said. Education efforts began much earlier due to the push for early voting, she said, and staff couldn’t engage with voters face-to-face the way they might have before the pandemic.

“Where in the past we might knock on the door and try to have a conversation with voters, we were just leaving literature so they could read about it and didn’t have to interact with anybody,” Criss said.

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