Yet Schware was the first who suggested tabling the proposed ordinance. He argued if the county gives the zoo $280,000 a year for six years, it is not guiding it toward self-sufficiency. He suggested giving less money for fewer years.

Commissioner Vic Mazziotti agreed, saying if the county does go with a six-year agreement, the annual subsidy should be reduced each year until it reaches zero. He said another option would be renew funding for the zoo every year.

Schware liked that idea, but Dougherty said it should be no fewer than three years.

Ott would like a specific date when the zoo, which he called “a valuable part of the community,” will be able to stand on its own “four hoofs” – supported solely by admissions, gift shops sales and contributions.

But Dougherty doesn’t think the zoo ever will be self-sufficient. He said it is going to need on-going financial support from the county.

Ott said a non-profit such as the zoological society may have trouble getting financial support from other sources as long as people assume “the government is taking care of it.”

Dougherty said people in the Lehigh Valley are “a little bit thrifty” when it comes to charitable giving, many non-profits are competing for money, and major corporations that once supported non-profits are gone.

Beyond tabling

Schware made the motion to table the bill with the understanding that commissioners will work out details of an alternative with the county administration and zoo representatives. Only Dougherty, McCarthy and Osborne voted against tabling.

If the bill had not been tabled, commissioners could have taken a final vote on it at their May 8 meeting.

Mazziotti, who chairs the administrative committee that will review the tabled bill, said a new bill might not be needed “but we need further discussion about it. We may end up in exactly the same place where we are now” but other options need to be considered.

It was unclear when Mazziotti’s administrative committee will review the zoo funding issue or when it might come back before commissioners for action.

Lisa Scheller, chairwoman of the commissioners, said they must decide if the county is going to be in the zoo business and, if so, under what kind of agreement. She noted their decision will impact the county’s 2014 budget.

Outside the meeting, Molchany said he hopes a majority of commissioners will come around, commenting: "We just started the dance." He said he doesn’t mind commissioners asking questions, which he called tough but appropriate, commended their diligence and expressed optimism that a partnership will develop as discussions continue.

He told commissioners: “I welcome suggestions to grow money, to grow revenue streams and help us maintain our expenses.”