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Oklahoma City councilman questions dedicated zoo funding

Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid at a recent city council meeting questioned whether Oklahoma City should continue providing a direct and dedicated funding source for the city zoo. The Oklahoman explored the zoo's funding as compared to other zoos in the region.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Modified: July 1, 2012 at 8:17 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012
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The membership fees brought in $1.1 million last year, said Dana McCrory, the society's executive director. Right now, the society also is raising half of the $9 million needed for a new veterinary hospital at the zoo.

Is private funding enough?

Shadid contends it's worth studying whether the zoo can make do without so much help from the city.

“That's the one entity that could consistently, and does, get private donations,” Shadid said. “You're not going to get private donations for transit. You're not going to get private donations for police officers.”

But the public money provided to the zoo over the last two decades has been transformative, said Dwight Scott, the zoo's director. Animals used to rest on concrete floors, visible to patrons through bars and cages, but the zoo has turned into a centerpiece of the city's Adventure District.

“It really has allowed the zoo to grow tremendously, and I don't just mean in terms of new exhibits,” Scott said.

“The sales tax has allowed us to exhibit animals in a much more naturalistic manner. Exhibits are larger and more naturalistic. Animals are on grass.”

McCrory said any abrupt and major funding shift would be disastrous for the zoo. She pointed out the campaign to raise $4.5 million in private donations for the veterinary hospital alone will take three years.

“We are so blessed that the city of Oklahoma City chose to allocate that one-eighth-cent sales tax for our zoo, and it has truly created that zoo that you know and we love,” McCrory said. “We (Zoo Friends) could in no way fund the zoo if that sales tax stopped tomorrow. Our fundraising would not be able to catch up with that overnight.”