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Sedgwick Co. Commission Expected To Delay Decision On Zoo Funding Agreement

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The Sedgwick County Commissioners are set to vote Wednesday on a resolution that would delay a decision on the future of a funding agreement with the Sedgwick County Zoo.

KMUW’s Deborah Shaar reports.

The commissioners and zoo officials met several times in the last month about possible changes to the present five-year funding agreement.

Under the current terms, funding will run until 2018. The county itself was required to notify the zoo that it was considering terminating the current agreement to replace it with a year-to-year plan.

Zoo Director Mark Reed says the proposal is upsetting given the fact that the partnership between the zoo and the county spans more than 40 years.

"It’s not so much about the money," Reed says. "It’s about the partnership, the trust, the relationships that have been built. This, we feel, would cause irreparable damage for years that it would take to build up that kind of trust."

Credit Deborah Shaar
Zoo Director Mark Reed

The commissioners will consider a plan to change the date of the termination notice for the funding agreement from June 1 to September 1. That would put any decisions about changes in funding levels at the end of the commissioners’ yearly budgeting cycle.

Reed says this will give a better picture of the county’s financial condition when it comes time for the zoo negotiations.

"[We are] nowhere near the level we were two years before and we got through that without having to terminate any kind of financial agreement," he says. "The budget will be presented, and there will be public hearings and discussions, and we can see really how bad or how good the financial situation is."

The county provides about 42-45 percent of the zoo’s operating budget each year. The Sedgwick County Zoological Society, ticket sales and donations provide the rest.

Reed says the county initiated the switch from a yearly agreement to a five-year funding plan back in 1993 as a way to stabilize budgets.

"For both entities, it would pay off," he says. "That way, we could tell them when new exhibits are opening. Their role in our capital campaign, traditionally, has been they would add the people and our zoo society will raise the money to build the exhibit."

The current funding agreement includes a gradual increase from the $5.6 million budgeted for this year up to $6.9 million set for 2018.

Reed says if the commissioners decide to decrease funding, it could force the zoo to raise admission or membership rates or close exhibits.

"We feel that for the money spent, the revenue return is incredible in this community," he says. "It’s a quality of life issue. We’re an economic engine. It just does not make any sense. We feel that the zoo has always been a core function in the county and this partnership, and it should continue that way. It’s shortsighted to treat it any other way."

The commissioners will vote on a proposal to change the notice of termination date on May 13th.

Similar proposals for The Exploration Place and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition are also on the agenda.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.