The Detroit Zoological Society is concerned about approximately $600,000 in tax revenue from Wayne County that members of the Oakland County Zoological Authority say should have gone to the Detroit Zoo but has instead has been captured by a handful of Wayne County downtown development authorities (DDAs).
As many as six DDAs in Wayne County, including its two largest — Dearborn, which has two DDAs, and Taylor — have captured about $200,000 annually from the zoo millage passed in 2008 to support the 125-acre zoo’s $30-million annual general operations budget, apparently in violation of existing framework created between the Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties and the city of Detroit when the county zoological authorities were established.
Some of the smaller Wayne County DDAs — which are funded through tax increment financing (TIF) — have stopped capturing from the 0.1-mill, 10-year levy authorized by voters in Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties in the August 2008 election, since the Oakland County Zoological Authority raised concerns several months ago.
DDAs in Oakland and Macomb counties have agreed not to capture any tax revenue from the Detroit Zoo millage.
TIF permits DDAs to annually “capture” tax revenues attributable to increases in the taxable value of real and personal property in the authority district after a baseline taxable value is established.
In recent months, officials from Macomb and Oakland counties have broached the issue with the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office, as well as the Wayne County Executive Office and Wayne County Board of Commissioners, detailing previous opinions from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office stating that DDAs are not permitted to capture money from the Detroit Zoo tax.
The AG’s office has also “put some pressure on the Wayne County Treasurer to collect the proceeds,” according to Oakland County Zoological Authority meeting minutes.
Gordon Snavely, a member of the Oakland County Zoological Authority who was also heavily involved in this year’s effort to get a 10-year, 0.2-mill levy for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) passed, said the Wayne County DDAs’ capture of zoo millage funds could pose ramifications for the DIA millage since they were formed under the guidelines of the same state law.
“I am very interested in making sure this stops and making sure all the money goes to the Zoological Society,” Snavely said. “Any diversion of funds from that destination is incorrect. I want it to go to the zoo. It’s a very important issue and it has to be resolved correctly.”
Due to a variety of factors, the 10-year millage for the Detroit Zoo, which was supported by over 70 percent of voters in the tri-county area, has collected less revenue during its lifespan: $14.9 million in 2009 down to less than $12 million estimated for 2012.
Legislation passed in 2010 increased the statutory limit on a levy for a zoological institution from 0.1 mills to 0.2 mills over 20 years.
The Wayne County Treasurer’s Office could not be reached for comment prior to press time, nor could Taylor Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand.
Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Ron L. Kagan, who Snavely said was “attempting through conferences, conversations, and diplomatic channels” to resolve the Wayne County DDA zoo tax capture situation, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment prior to press time.