The executive-elect said the amount of time that he, Molchany, current Executive Matthew Croslis and deceased former county Executive William Hansell “have spent on this issue is astounding, given its low financial impact.”
Muller said more than $110 million of the county's $362 million budget for 2014 comes from taxpayers. He said the amount of money being debated for zoo funding is less than two-tenths of one percent of that $110 million.
He said county government should be focusing on the big issues, “not spending over eight months on a subject that is as small as this one.”
He acknowledged it is not a small issue to the zoological society.
After the vote, Molchany said he does not know if the zoo can become self-sufficient by the end of 2016, should the county commissioners vote to end all support in the future..
Schware argued the county’s subsidy should decrease each year “in light of the zoo’s financial success.”
He said on Oct. 31, at the end of the zoo’s fiscal year, it had a cash balance of about $750,000, “which is far in excess of what they’ve had in prior years” and “far in excess of what is being asked for from the county.”
“At the same time, the county’s financial picture is not looking very good,” continued Schware. “Unless something changes, we’re going to be looking at giving a tax hike to the taxpayers of Lehigh County. We need to consider not only the zoo’s need but, most of all, the taxpayers. The taxpayers of this county cannot afford a tax hike. We need to do everything possible to avoid that.”
After the meeting, Muller said he does not buy into Schware’s “the-sky-is-falling position.”
The three years of county funding for the zoo was a compromise to an initial proposal by Croslis, which would have ensured funding for the next six years: $185,000 a year from 2014 to 2016, then $150,000 from 2017 through 2019.
Dougherty, one of the co-sponsors of that six-year proposal, withdrew his support Wednesday night. Osborne, the other sponsor, recommended withdrawing that bill.
When no other commissioners offered to sponsor it, Scheller announced it was withdrawn.
The approved, three-year bill was sponsored by Dougherty and Creighton.
Dougherty called it a good compromise.
The three-year funding plan does include built-in reductions in the annual $185,000 subsidy, if audits show improvement in the zoo’s cash balance at the end of each year. Those reductions range from $15,000 to $35,000, depending on how much that cash balance increases.
The accredited zoo is in the heart of the 1,100-acre Trexler Nature Preserve, located in North Whitehall Township just west of Schnecksville.
Not in dispute is an additional $92,500 provided each year for the care of the county’s bison, elk and Palomino horses that live in Trexler Nature Preserve, which is owned by the county.