Ingham County voters showed their support for the Potter Park Zoo by renewing the 0.41-mill property tax that is used to operate the zoo’s facilities.
The millage passed by an overwhelming majority, with 76.5% of voters support renewal. The tax will bring in an estimated $2.8 million a year over the next five years to cover the day-to-day costs of operating, maintaining and improving the zoo.
That means residents with a home worth $200,000 pay $41 a year to continue supporting the zoo.
“We think the zoo is an important asset for our county and our community,” said Lansing residents Scott Hughes. “It’s a great educational tool for kids and families and the community.”
The Potter Park Zoo has been a staple of the Lansing community since 1920. The zoo was under control of the city of Lansing until 2006, when the cost of maintaining the zoo became too big a burden and officials decided to hand over the operations to Ingham County. The first millage proposal was voted on by the community and approved in 2006. Voters have continued to support the millage tax since then.
“I’m very appreciative to the really strong support we get from our community,” said Dennis Laidler, the zoo’s education curator. “I don’t want anybody to think we take that community support for granted because it’s vital to us. We would not be an accredited institution if we didn’t have that.”
Judy West, of Lansing, has been going to the zoo for over 30 years. She voted to renew the millage tax and said she was “so excited that it passed.”
“It allows them to upgrade their facility. It allows them to do more outreach to the public schools in the area. It allows them to do special events like ‘Boo at the Zoo’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’. It allows them to do things that bring the community together, which we always need,” she said.
Lyle Stampski, of Lansing, who also supported the millage renewal, said “the zoo is important and I think we need to have a good zoo, but the zoo has to be done well so that the animals are well cared for, and that costs a lot of money, so I felt that it was necessary.”
“The zoo has to stay up to date or people won’t come to it,” added his wife, Diane Stampski, also of Lansing. “It has to get more attractive exhibits or it can’t compete with other zoos. So it’s important they have enough money to keep caring for the animals and stay looking up to date.”
However, Laidler explained that while the millage covers a large majority of the costs related to maintaining and operating the zoo, it’s not the only revenue source used to improve the facility.
“A lot of times…we’ll do a capital or fundraising campaign and look for sponsors and funders to help supplement the millage. We don’t rely on just the millage to make improvements,” he said.
“We also have other sources and other strategies to make sure we have all the funds available to do something, like a new exhibit.”
The zoo plans to revisit and update their strategic plan in the upcoming months to determine what improvements are feasible for the zoo and where additional grants and donations will be needed to fund those projects. Last year, the zoo added a new red panda exhibit with the help of Williams Auto World as well as an Alaskan moose exhibit with the help of the Glassen Foundation and Safari Club International.
“We can’t always add multiple exhibits every year,” said Laidler. “We have to take care of things like infrastructure first, but we are always looking for ways to make the zoo better.”