Fresno Chaffee Zoo to seek Measure Z renewal

The Fresno BeeJanuary 7, 2014 

JRW ZOO 5

Scott Barton, director of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, speaks during groundbreaking ceremonies for the new African Adventure exhibit in Roeding Park.

JOHN WALKER — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Measure Z, which could pay for more projects at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, will be up for renewal on the November ballot, Fresno County Supervisors learned Tuesday.

During discussion of the Fresno County Zoo Authority annual report, zoo Director Scott Barton said a new Measure Z will look much the same as the existing one.

Measure Z, a sales tax measure that raises 10 cents for every $100 spent, was approved in 2004 with a 10-year sunset. Two-thirds of the money pays for new projects such as Sea Lion Cove, King Cobra, Stingray Bay and "African Adventure," which is now under way.

One-third of the money is used for zoo operations and staffing. The measure is expected to raise $100 million by the time it expires.

Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case McNairy said she was concerned about the zoo's survival if Measure Z is not renewed. (The supervisor said Tuesday she wants to start using her full married name in official county business.)

Barton said if the Measure Z renewal failed, the zoo would not face imminent closure. The zoo has more than $3 million budgeted for zoo operations that has not been used and investments it can draw from. In addition, if the renewal failed, the zoo would likely raise entry fees and zoo membership prices to continue operations.

"Every year, we underspend for operations," he said. "If Measure Z doesn't pass we will have to start spending it down."

He said the zoo has not raised entry fees for more than a decade; without Measure Z's renewal, entry fees likely will rise.

Also, without a new Measure Z, he said, the zoo would not expand as quickly into to its ultimate build-out of 39 acres. The new area would be home to hippos, gorillas and possibly penguins, Barton told supervisors.

"If Measure Z does not pass the biggest impact will be in (new) capital projects," Barton said.

He said he expects the new ballot measure language to be ready by March for county supervisors.

In other action, supervisors also supported a plan to build a new jail annex with $79.2 million in state money and $8.8 million in county matching funds. A decision is expected at a Board of State and Community Corrections meeting next week.

County Administrative Officer John Navarrette said supervisors' action Tuesday "puts us in a stronger position ... removing any doubt of our county's commitment."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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