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Zoo decision delayed

Posted: Fri Jul 25, 2008 7:02 am
by Kenny Wilder
July 24, 2008
Zoo decision delayed

Louis Cooper
Pensacola New Journal

The Zoo Northwest Florida asked the Santa Rosa County Commission this morning to delay making a decision on possible funding for the Gulf Breeze animal park.

Danyelle Lantz, executive director of the zoo, told commissioners she would like them to wait until next month to decide whether to join a tri-county governmental group that would provide $250,000 a year to the financially-ailing zoo.

The 24-year-old, 50-acre zoo announced last year that it was $3 million in debt, largely due to expenses related to damage from hurricanes Ivan and Dennis that were not covered by insurance.

An initial plea raised $1 million, but efforts to generate the remainder have fallen short.

The delay will allow zoo officials time to present their proposal to a county recreation committee, as well as host a series of town hall meetings to educate the public about the zoo's proposal, she said.

She also plans to ask Escambia and Okaloosa county officials to commit to the effort.

Thursday's vote had been scheduled by commission Chairman John Broxson, who asked fellow commissioners to consider allocating $25,000 each from their district recreation funds to the zoo, for a total of $125,000.

That's an idea Commissioner Bob Cole said he couldn't support in light of the $125,000 cut in recreation spending this year.

That money had gone to pay for utilities at county parks, a bill now paid by the sports associations that use the parks.

"Quite frankly, at this point, I was not going to be able to support it with District 2 recreation funds," said Cole, who represents District 2, which includes the Milton area.

"We've just asked sports associations to pick up the tab for their light bills. It would be hard for the district to swallow."

Broxson and Commissioner Tom Stewart said they are confident the commission eventually will find a way to help the zoo.

While Lantz requested the delay, she also said the zoo needs to know if Santa Rosa County and other local governments will support the zoo by September so the zoo's board of directors will be able to decide whether to keep the facility open or prepare to close it.