Politics & Government

Zoo negotiations in holding pattern

Mark DeVries, left, board president of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society, and Jim Howell, chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission, attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo in May. (May 27, 2016)
Mark DeVries, left, board president of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society, and Jim Howell, chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission, attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo in May. (May 27, 2016) File photo

The zoo board plans to do a deep dive to understand whether the Sedgwick County Zoo could be funded adequately by a property tax mill levy, as proposed by the county.

“This process will take some time to complete,” Zoological Society president Mark DeVries wrote in a letter to County Manager Michael Scholes. “We do have time to perform a thorough analysis and arrive at a solution that meets the expectations of the residents and taxpayers of Sedgwick County.”

The county proposes to fund the zoo with a set mill levy tied to the tax base instead of annual funding requests every budget cycle.

The county also is now open to dropping its push for more voting power on the zoo board and regulating the zoo director’s public statements. The zoo board deeply disliked those two proposals, which nearly brought negotiations on an operating agreement to an impasse.

DeVries said he is reluctant to put a time frame on how long the zoo board’s review would take. The zoo board meets once a month. He said proposals are typically reviewed at one meeting and voted on the following meeting.

“We’re talking about a couple months by the time we vote on something,” DeVries said. “There is not a specific timeline or deadline out there we’re facing on this since we’ve got an operating agreement and 2017 funding in place.”

DeVries says negotiations are now in an “analytical phase.” The board will talk to current and former board members about how the mill levy funding model worked for the zoo when it was used until 2000.

“We’ll take our time and come up with the right answer,” DeVries said. “Things are moving along well, and we’re having good discussions with the county.”

The zoo’s funding agreement was canceled last year, though the county continues to provide funding. The county has a Nov. 18 deadline to cancel the zoo’s operating agreement for next year.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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