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Enough already with the St. Louis Zoo being free!

Ray Hartmann, Donnybrook regular and former publisher of St. Louis’ Riverfront Times, says the Zoo-Museum District law that our lege created in 1970 was wonderful–for 1970. But not now. At the April meeting of West County Dems, he laid out the history. The 1970 legislation created a Zoo-Museum Taxing District that enabled its board to put property tax requests before the voters in St. Louis City and County. (Currently, the District includes the zoo, the art museum, the Science Center, the Botanical Garden, and the History Museum.) With that revenue source established, three of those entities (the zoo, the art museum and the History Museum) were to be “forever free.”

Yeah, but.

That was when most of the population of St. Louis lived in St. Louis, in the city or the county. Eighty percent did. Not anymore. The census considers the metro St. Louis area to be much broader than that, and the census figures say that just over half of “St. Louisans” now live beyond the city/county borders. And those folks don’t help support our institutions. Certainly after the World Series, people in St. Charles, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and St. Clair counties considered themselves St. Louisans, but when it comes to this issue, you’d think they lived half a continent away.

It’s a fairness issue, but they don’t see it that way. They are less than delighted that Hartmann talked Senator Joan Bray (D-St. Louis) into filing legislation that would change the “forever free” words to “forever free to those who live in the taxing district.” If Bray’s legislation were to pass, people from Japan or Jefferson County would, if the zoo chose to charge them, have to pay. Oddly enough, the zoo is currently hostile to the idea of charging admission to anyone.

Still, if the zoo–perhaps at the urging of taxpayers in St. Louis City and County–ever did start charging admission, people in the outlying areas could gain entry several ways: by joining the Friends of the Zoo or by paying for tickets. (After all, almost as many St. Charles residents–and St. Charles has about the same population as the city–show up at the zoo as city residents.) They could even choose, as counties, to join the Zoo-Museum Taxing District. Hartmann was droll about that likelihood:

Hartmann figures St. Louis is leaving $30-$40 million at the gate. It’s like saying to visitors: “No, no, put your money away. We’ve got too much.”