Measure Z, a proposal to extend for 10 more years a Fresno County sales tax add-on for improvements and operations at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, was winning strong voter support for approval in election returns Tuesday night.
With 556 out of 577 precincts reporting, Measure Z was passing with “yes” votes from 71.3% of voters. As a tax, the measure needed a two-thirds majority (66.6%) to pass. Some precincts remained to be counted late Tuesday, however, as well as absentee and provisional ballots that were turned in at polling places across the county.
The original Measure Z, which was passed in 2004 with nearly 75% of the vote, tacked an additional 0.1% onto sales taxes charged in Fresno County. That amounts to 1 penny in added sales tax for a $10 purchase, and it was set to expire next year. The 2014 incarnation of Measure Z extends the tax for another 10 years.
“It’s a pretty good cushion,” United Security Bank president/CEO Dennis Woods, the Measure Z campaign chairman, said of the margin Tuesday night. He said that while zoo supporters had been confident of victory, there was concern low turnout might have been “a wild card” for the results.
Fresno physical therapist Joan LeRoux, who spearheaded the modest No on Measure Z campaign, was resigned that the early evening’s vote trend would hold up. “The voters have spoken, and that’s what we go with,” said LeRoux. “That’s what democracy is all about.”
Over its first 10 years, Measure Z had generated almost $100 million in revenue for the zoo. Two-thirds of the money is earmarked for capital improvements at the zoo. That includes upgrades to facilities as well as new exhibits, including the $10.5 million Sea Lion Cove that opened in 2012 and the 13-acre, $56 million African Adventure exhibit now under construction and targeted for opening next year. One-third of the money is for operational costs at the zoo; zoo representatives said income from Measure Z allowed them to keep admission prices at the same level for 10 years: $7 for regular admission, $3.50 for kids and seniors, and free for children 1 and younger.
Zoo director Scott Barton said expectations are for the tax to provide another $100 million over the next decade for more new exhibits and renovations to existing animal habitats.
The campaign leading up to Tuesday had been a fairly one-sided affair. The Keep Our Zoo/Yes on Measure Z committee received more than $670,000 in cash contributions, compared to less than $67,000 for the No on Z committee. Almost all of that was in the form of loans from LeRoux. Through mid-October, according to campaign finance statements, the Yes on Z campaign had outspent its opponents by about 10-to-1, including a flood of newspaper advertisements and broadcast commercials in recent weeks. The No on Z effort socked most of its money into printing and postage for direct-mail fliers to voters and also bought space in several “slate mailers,” pieces sent by political advertisers to voters with voter recommendations on multiple races.