Voters asked to pay higher taxes for Grand Rapids zoo, museum

John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids Public Museum, millage
An event to support a new millage to fund the John Ball Zoo and Grand Rapids Public Museum. (Sept. 12, 2016)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Are you willing to shell out more tax dollars to pay for the John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapids Public Museum? That’s one of the questions Kent County voters will be faced with when they go to the polls two weeks from Tuesday.

Both the museum and zoo have struggled over the years to find a steady funding source. Backers of the millage say it could be the answer.

For the owner of a $170,000 home — the average in Kent County according to millage supporters — the additional .44 mills would add up to an extra $37.40 per year on your tax bill. The increase would run through 2025.

Zoo & Museum millage graphic

The additional funds, about $9.2 million the first year, would take care of the animals and artifacts as well as fund improvements and educational opportunities at the zoo and museum.

Supporters are using a catchy little jingle to try to convince voters the zoo and museum are worthy of you paying extra taxes. One of the featured players lip syncing to the words in the jingle is Harold Voorhees, a longtime politician and sometimes anti-tax warrior now supporting the proposed tax increase.

So what convinced Voorhees this is a worthwhile surcharge to your tax bill?

“This is an opportunity for the public to invest in two of the great culture entities of our area,” Voorhees said.

Beyond that, supporters say the two institutions are economic drivers, generating some $62 million per year.

“I think there are like 800,000 people who will be coming to the museum and the zoo. They bring that economic activity that really generates jobs for a lot of people,” Voorhees said.

But before you cast your vote, make sure you read the entire ballot. Over $414,000 of the money raised through the millage will go to the 18 Kent County Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts that, by law, keep taxes collected on property in their boundaries for local improvements. Downtown development authorities, smart zones and brownfield development areas are examples of TIFs.

“That’s state law and we have to follow state law,” Voorhees explained.

Zoo & Museum millage tax increment graphic

24 Hour News 8 checked, but did not find any organized opposition to the millage request.

Here’s how the ballot language reads:


For the purpose of establishing dedicated funding for the care of animals and artifacts, repair and improvement of exhibits, and providing enhanced educational programs, shall the total limitation on the amount of taxes which may be assessed against all taxable property in Kent County be increased by 0.44 mill ($0.44 on each $1,000 of taxable value) on all Real and Personal Property subject to taxation for the period 2016 through 2025, inclusive, which would be allocated equally to the John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapids Public Museum? The amount raised by the levy in the first year is estimated at $9,292,644.

To the extent permitted by law, a portion of the revenues from this millage will be captured by local authorities for authorized purposes. The total amount of captured tax increment revenues from such millage in the first calendar year of the levy is estimated at $414,070.26. The tax increment authorities in Kent County, capturing a portion of this tax levy, include the following: the Downtown Development Authorities of the Cities of Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, Grandville, Lowell, Rockford, Walker, and Wyoming, the Charter Township of Cascade, and the Villages of Kent City and Sparta; the Brownfield Redevelopment Authorities of Grand Rapids, Grandville, Kentwood, Rockford, Walker, Wyoming; and the Monroe North Tax Increment Financing Authority and SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority of the City of Grand Rapids.



Yes! Zoo and Museum Facebook page


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