Defeat of Proposal K in 2002 is large factor in Zoo’s Demise

Why are we so surprised the Detroit Zoo is closing?

I just received a link to a story on the Detroit Zoo situation from a friend of mine and wanted to draw your attention to it because it offers some insight into why the city is facing the question of having to close the Detroit Zoo in the first place. If you’re livid with the impending closure or haven’t been able to sort through the related arguments that have come up as a result of the debate, please take a minute or two and read this story.

I am not defending the no-vote by the Council on Saturday. Frankly, I believe the proposal that was presented — to turn the day-to-day operations of the zoo over to the Detroit Zoological Society — is probably the best thing that could happen for the zoo in a business-sense. It’s good for the city, too. I am also not defending the city for the horrific financial condition it is in.

What I do want to point out about this story, however, is that the city is not totally to blame for this situation. Area voters also contributed to the problem.

Places like the Detroit Zoo — and the Belle Isle Aquarium, and the Detroit Historical Museum — cost money to operate. A lot of money. The kind of money that donations and annual memberships don’t fully cover. And who wants to see the price of a zoo ticket increased to $15 or $20 a person? Nobody. That’s where a millage comes in.

In the case of the cultural institutions in jeopardy, Proposal K was created to help meet the financial gap between the amount of money that comes into these cultural venues, and the amount of money they need to survive. On the ballot in 2002, Prop K, also called “Arts, Parks and Kids”, aimed to protect 17 area cultural institutions (including the Detroit Zoo) as well as recreational and community educational programs in Wayne and Oakland Counties. The trade off? Property owners would see a 1/2 mill increase in property taxes, about $25 a year. A no-brainer, right? WRONG. Proposal K did not pass, and this time, poor or misleading ballot wording or lack of advertising on the subject ($3 million was spent to get the word out about it) weren’t to blame.

Here is a snippet of one of the press releases the State of Michigan put out less than one month prior to the election in which Proposal K was voted on (I have added the bold in):

On the November 5 ballot, Proposal K (for kids) will give voters the opportunity to approve a funding initiative that will help 17 Wayne and Oakland county cultural institutions protect educational programs for kids.These include important hands-on educational programs in science, history, music and art offered by institutions like the Detroit Zoo, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Holocaust Memorial Center, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Detroit Institute of Arts. “Proposal K would protect educational opportunities for our children by supporting institutions of learning and discovery, institutions that stimulate growth in history, science and art,” says Dr. Marlene Davis, Superintendent of Wayne RESA. Each school year, approximately 1.5 million kids visit or have in-class presentations from the 17 regional cultural institutions that would benefit from Proposal K.

If approved, the proposed 1/2 mill property tax also will protect Oakland and Wayne county community educational and recreational programs including parks, soccer fields and senior centers. All at a cost of just $25 a year.

I don’t think it gets much more straightforward than that, folks. What I think is that the majority of voters decided that $25 was too much of their hard-earned cash to give up to cultural institutions and rec programs, and they washed their hands of it.

So, I ask this question again: Why are we so surprised the Detroit Zoo is closing?

4 Comments so far

  1. ZuDfunck (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 3:23 pm

    Well put…

    People want steak at bologna prices.

  2. (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

    Thanks, Zud. I agree with your analogy.

  3. Doug Geiger (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 6:19 pm

    I tend to agree, but also know in Detroit a lot of people feel they are ALREADY paying for “steak,” and getting a lot of bologna! I mean look at the per pupil funding for students at DPS and the education they get in return…look at the Mayor’s expense reports…the list goes on and on…

  4. MGal (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2006 @ 8:52 pm

    I remember that proposal and my shock that it didn’t pass. It really did seem like a no-brainer but hey, lately nothing seems to make sense around here. I wonder what would have happened this past election if this prop had been on the ballot…

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