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No Fee Increases for Cosley Zoo

Park District board rejects $1 increase for non-Wheaton residents, approves $220,000 solar panel project.

There will be no cost increase for non-Wheaton residents to attend Cosley Zoo next year.

The Wheaton Park District Board of Commissioners struck down a motion to raise the admission fee for non-Wheaton resident from $3 to $4. Commissioner Phil Luetkehans spoke against the proposed increase saying just a year ago the board voted to charge $3 for non-residents. Last year the zoo grossed $122,886 in entry fees.

Wheaton residents’ taxes support the petting zoo, so residents of the city are able to enter the zoo without paying an admission. 

In a memo to the board, Susan Wahlgren, director of the zoo, said the admission increase would bring the zoo closer to achieving a balanced budget. In 2010 Wahlgren said 87,932 zoo attendees, or 75 percent of zoo of total attendees, were from outside Wheaton. Of those non-resident attendees, she estimated that 40,000 of the attendees were adults. In her memo Wahlgren said the $1increase could generate an additional $40,000 in revenue.

Commissioner Kim VanderSchaaf expressed support for the increase, but she said was concerned the zoo would see a decrease in attendance because of the fee increase. VanderSchaaf said counting on an additional $40,000 in revenue was not fiscally sound because they could not predict how non-residents would react such a fee increase.

VanderSchaaf was not the only one who expressed concern.

“I just think this is premature,” Leutkehans said. “I was surprised to see this in the packet… shocked that we were doing this already. We went from zero to three (dollars) and within another year we go from three to four.”

Leutkehans said everyone wants to see Cosley Zoo in a stronger financial position, but said it’s important for the park district to continue to subsidize the budget.

“I just don’t want to see us drive people away,” he said.

Ray Morrill, board president, said he thinks the board should annually review the zoo’s budget and see if a bump in the admission fee is needed for non-residents.

If approved the fee increase would have gone into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

The board also approved a $220,000 solar energy initiative. Solar panels will be installed on the roof of the Community Center. The contract was awarded to California-based Phoenix Solar.

The park district applied for a grant that would reimburse 60 percent of the construction costs. Park District Executive Director Michael Benard said the reimbursement would save the district $132,000.  However, Benard said within 13 years the district’s energy savings could amount to $130,000.

The reimbursement for the project is contingent upon meeting parameters set forth by the grant. Benard said the contract with Phoenix is written to protect the park district’s assets.

Benard said the district is interested in leveraging the resources of other organizations for the benefit of Wheaton.

“As a conservation agency we believe we should advocate for clean energy,” Benard said. “Alternative energy is not going away. It’s only going to be more and more in our lives,” Benard said.

The installation of the 240 panels is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

During a period of citizen response, Cathy Rajcan told the board she was opposed to the idea of bringing a hotel to Arrowhead Golf Club.  

In July park district officials with Fairway Suites, LLC, allowing them to represent the park district in presentations to hotel chains such as Marriot, Hilton and Hyatt for a potential project.

“A hotel does not fit in with the mission of the park district,” Rajcan told the board. “A hotel creates too many moving parts for the park district, especially with the purchase of Hubble. In today’s economic environment what’s more important than growth is sustainability.”

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