Politics & Government

Sedgwick County, Zoological Society contract talks extended

The entrance to the Sedgwick County Zoo. (April 30, 2015)
The entrance to the Sedgwick County Zoo. (April 30, 2015) File photo

Sedgwick County voted to allow more time for negotiations with the zoo over their operating agreement.

County commissioners voted this week to extend the deadline to decide to terminate the agreement from June 1 to Nov. 18. Either the county or the Sedgwick County Zoological Society would need to notify the other by then in order to end their agreement on Jan. 1.

They could resolve this at any time so the ball is in their court and I think we’re patiently waiting for their response at this point.

Sedgwick County Chairman Jim Howell

The two parties have been negotiating parts of their operating agreement for months after some commissioners wanted changes to the agreement. It governs the zoo’s director, other employees, property, admission prices, liability and capital improvements.

Assistant county manager Ron Holt said the extension was to allow “more time for discussions of the various issues to continue.”

Holt said there’s been an operating agreement between the zoo and the county since the early 1970s. The agreement’s last changes were in 2005.

County manager Michael Scholes said they hope to come to an agreement in the next couple of months. He wouldn’t discuss the points of contention between the zoo and the county.

“They asked for the extension and really Nov. 18 is like the last possible time before we get into the holiday season,” Scholes said Wednesday.

$5.6 million Sedgwick County contribution to the zoo for 2016

Chairman Jim Howell said the county has offered “a couple of contract options to the zoo over the last number of months.”

“They could essentially accept the contract that’s been offered to them right now if they wanted to,” Howell said. “They could resolve this at any time so the ball is in their court, and I think we’re patiently waiting for their response at this point.”

Zoological Society board president Mark DeVries said the board would prefer no changes to the operating agreement.

“It’s been a document that has led to the development of a world-class institution here,” DeVries said.

“The county can cancel it unilaterally now on Nov. 18 and assume control of the zoo on Jan. 1 if they so choose,” DeVries added. “That’s what the discussions are about.”

The county can cancel it unilaterally now on Nov. 18 and assume control of the zoo on Jan. 1 if they so choose.

Zoological Society board president Mark DeVries

Commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh argued for the current agreement and against further delays in negotiations.

“Maybe it takes that long to negotiate, but it seems like this is longer than it ought to be,” Unuh said. “Our old contract … has been successful, and I’m supportive of it. I could sign off on that tomorrow.”

They are also negotiating changes to the zoo’s funding agreement, which was terminated last year.

“We are operating without a funding agreement, which is not unusual,” DeVries said. “That has happened a number of times in the past.”

The zoo will get $5.6 million from the county in the 2016 budget. The zoo may also get another $150,000 from a contingency fund if it runs out of personnel funds toward the end of the year.

DeVries said he hopes the funding agreement is resolved at the same time as the operating agreement.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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