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Bill to block zoo tax clears legislature
Measure would prohibit Brookfield from charging 25-cent levy

Monday, January 10, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Victoria Pierce

Amid discussions of an income tax increase last week, the Illinois House unanimously passed a measure prohibiting the village of Brookfield from implementing an amusement tax on Brookfield Zoo.

The Senate approved the measure in November, but that didn't stop Brookfield from approving the 25-cent tax in December.

If the state measure is signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, it could lead to further disputes between the village and the zoo.

"We believe we have a valid amusement tax," Brookfield Village President Michael Garvey said Friday.

The dispute arose as both the zoo and the village trimmed budgets and laid off employees during the recent economic downturn. The village had floated the idea of an amusement tax more than six months ago before approving it. The tax applies to other venues in Brookfield, such as a bowling alley and high school sports events, but the biggest impact would be on the zoo. The village expects to raise up to $500,000 from the tax.

The tax had an implementation date of Dec. 23, but a zoo representative said Friday that admission rates have remained the same.

Zoo officials from the start opposed the tax, arguing that state legislation in place for many years prohibits any portion of the admission fee from being used for anything but zoo purposes. They then lobbied the state legislature for legislation that would clarify the matter.

"This was a grass-roots effort in which zoo members, employees and supporters got involved in the legislative process and made a difference," said Matt Mayer, vice president of public affairs for the Chicago Zoological Society, which runs the zoo.

Brookfield officials were unaware of the new legislation in Springfield until it passed the state Senate. The village maintains that it has the authority to levy the tax.

The Village Board will meet in closed session Monday to discuss possible measures if the zoo does not honor the amusement tax or files suit as has been mentioned in the past, Garvey said.

"It's nothing personal," he said of the recent conflicts with the zoo. "I still think it's the greatest zoo in the world. We have differing opinions and different goals."

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