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Could an elephant help balance city budget?

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jan 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-26 19:47:11-05

The city's wrestling with different ways to pay for city services, raising zoo entry fees is just one idea being considered. But at least one council member is warning that raising fees could actually take money out of the budget.

Any city budget can be a shoving match over where to spend, where to cut and how to raise more money.

The City of Tucson is trying to fill a $33,000,000 hole in the budget and may raise fees to help close the gap.

That includes an idea to add three dollars to the zoo admission. That would take it to $12 for adults.

City Councilmember Steve Kozachik thinks higher fees could push ticket sales down and drive the need for tax money up.

"We've charged more in fees. We've dropped attendance and we've wound up having to pay more out of the General Fund."

Kozachik says fees could hike for business licenses, planning fees, bus fares and other services but if that discourages people from using them income could fall.

He sees the zoo as an example.

In 2010, admission went from $6 to $7.

Attendance income dropped that year, but went up the next.

In 2012 admission went from $7 to $9.

When the new African exhibit opened attendance went up even with higher fees, but dropped again the next year.

Attendance jumped in 2014, and hit a record $618,000 when Nandi the baby elephant was born.

The Zoo Director would rather not see fees go up, but says new attractions and a great experience bring in visitors even with higher fees.

"It can be a cause for concern if we don't have a new exhibit or new animal planned but it's something that if it's communicated correctly in my experience working in municipal zoos it can be overcome," said Jason Jacobs, Reid Park Zoo Director.

"The city's budget year actually starts in July and it is easy to see city leaders wrestling with all the tough decisions regarding that budget until late June."