NEW ORLEANS -- The Audubon Commission which manages the zoo, aquarium, park and other properties is asking Orleans Parish voters to extend two tax millages on the March 15 ballot.
The taxes bring in about $12 million a year.
Audubon Institute President and CEO Ron Forman says the combined 4.2 mills equals about $40 a year for the average household.
"The simple answer is, if you like what Audubon's doing, with their family attractions, going from the worst to the best, then vote yes," said Forman.
Forman says voter approval of the millages would mean a steady flow of new and improved exhibits for the next 50 years.
"We're asking the public to allow us to continue to build world-class facilities and that's what the tax is dedicated for."
But some taxpayers oppose giving Audubon more money, when there are other, unmet needs in the community. Uptown neighbor Dennis Herlihy said, "If there is money out there to be had, why isn't it directed to the potholes on my streets. That effects the value of my home."
One email now circulating around the community questions whether this can be considered a tax renewal. "This is a new tax, for 4.2 mills rather than the current 3.31 mills, to last for the next 50 years rather than expire in 2022, and to give the Audubon Nature Institute $11.9 million a year to use for whatever they please, rather than the current $8.5 million that must be used for the Zoo and Aquarium," Debra Howell wrote.
Audubon communications director Frank Donze explained why it's considered a renewal. "The millages are being combined because it is the fiscally responsible way to proceed, rather than having to ask voters for two different millages each time they are up for renewal," said Donze. "It's prudent to combine them. This will also allow us to expand the use of the funds for the Nature Center in New Orleans East and the Research Center in Algiers."
Tax critic Julius Green questions why Audubon needs the money, given the large yearly attendance at both the zoo and aquarium.
"I love animals and I love the zoo," said Green. "But after a while, the animals at the zoo are going to be living better than me."
Forman says the money they collect at the gate goes to operations, not maintenance. He says Audubon's own fundraising matches the tax millages, dollar for dollar.
"Let us keep rebuilding," said Forman. "The record speaks for itself." If approved by the voters, the millages would be extended for the next 50 years.