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The San Diego Zoo is essentially on the lamb...rather lam...free to do whatever it chooses with $10.5 million a year from property tax subsidies paid for by San Diego residents, says a new report by San Diego's City Auditor.

The annual paycheck, which amounts to approximately 23 percent of the Zoo's yearly expenses, is collected by the County, funneled to the City and then get deposited in the Zoo's General Fund to help pay for exhibitions at the tourist attraction. The arrangement was set up way back in 1934 to be used "exclusively for the maintenance in Balboa Park of zoological exhibits."

In the May 6 report, the City Auditor found that while there is no evidence of misappropriation or misuse of funds and that the money is spent "in a manner broadly consistent with the City Charter," there is room for improvement and more efficient ways to track the revenues.

One area of concern is the lack of communication between the City and Zoo officials. In addition to the lack of communication, the Zoo doesn't necessarily track how the tax revenues are spent.

"As a result, neither the City nor the Zoo can definitively determine that funds collected...are being used specifically for maintenance of zoological exhibits."

And, the Auditor's report goes on to say, that even if the two entities were communicating and tracking the money, the exact use of what the money should be spent for is too broad and should be more narrowly defined.

Concluded the City Auditor: "The San Diego Zoo is an important part of the City's economy and culture. San Diego citizens support the organization through the provision of property taxes for the maintenance of zoological exhibits. Making a few minor adjustments to the process of budgeting, operating, and overseeing the Zoological Exhibits Fund as well as documenting procedures to enhance clarity will allow the process to be more efficient, transparent, and accountable to the taxpayers."

Follow this link to read the full report:

http://www.sandiego.gov/auditor/reports/fy13_pdf/audit/13-013_Zoo_Fund.pdf

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Comments

nostalgic May 7, 2013 @ 6:41 p.m.

The city has a history of not really following where the money goes. Not just for the zoo. Do we have a city zookeeper (that is, someone who watches the zoo)? And who is it, I wonder. Unlike the wastewater people, who have to go look into the sewers, the zookeeper could go audit the elephants. Glad to hear this is all going to be improved.

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monaghan May 8, 2013 @ 2:35 p.m.

Given the astronomical price of admission to the World Famous San Diego Zoo -- $44 for adults ages 12 and up and $34 for children ages 3 to 11 -- and the rampant commercialization once inside the gates, one wonders about this Depression-era subsidy from local residents. A parent with a toddler and a 'tween has to shell out $122 just to get in the door. This doesn't seem taxpayer-friendly to me.

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HonestGovernment May 8, 2013 @ 5:56 p.m.

The 1934 special tax sets aside 2 cents for every $100 of property value to support the zoo. It would take a ballot initiative to change any aspect of the tax. In Tacoma there is a local tax that supports the zoo, but residents get a substantive discount on zoo admission, in return. That is something that our zoo should offer to property owners, who pay the special tax. The only thing our zoo does for residents (or anyone) is offer a somewhat pricey year-long membership, which does provide unlimited "free" access, but this is not something that all property owners find useful. I support the zoo and don't mind the tax, and buy a membership. But as a nonprofit, the zoo does not really need this tax revenue. I don't know what percentage the current tax revenue comprises of the zoo's total income, but in 2007 it was 6% ($12.6 mill in tax, with $202 mill in revenue). The City Council has routinely rejected ballot proposals that would redirect the tax revenue to Balboa Park maintenance, in general. I'd have no problem with that. The zoo does very well; our Park has a backlog of real needs.

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