Jungle Jack Frustrated With Koch Brothers Involvement In Columbus Zoo Levy

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UPDATED: Monday May 5, 2014 6:05 PM

One of the most recognized faces in central Ohio -  Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium - says he is frustrated by the involvement of a Washington, DC based conservative group and its efforts to defeat the Columbus Zoo levy.

"I'm completely frustrated and I can't believe it," said Hanna.  "Do I hurt some, yes.  I care about the Franklin County citizens and voters here because I know what's at stake and what we've built. I've always believed that what we're doing here, starting with the levy in '85, that we've accounted for every penny that's gone in that park."

Hanna says he and his staff are already bracing for a possible levy defeat tomorrow, a first at the polls for the zoo.

"My staff asked me today 'what did we do wrong' and I said you did nothing wrong," said Hanna.  "Some people came in here obviously.  When you're at the top in life, whether it's football or your business - whatever it is - there are always those that might not like that.  But those people who oppose this need to understand that there's a lot involved here."

Hanna, who spent the lunch hour shaking hands with people in the downtown area, says he is particularly angry about misinformation regarding the levy and a property tax increase.

"They've said ‘this levy is doubling your taxes,’" Hanna told 10TVs Jim Heath.  "Let me tell you something, I can't tell you how many times people have asked me, 'Why are you doubling my taxes?'  We're not doubling your taxes.  It's only the zoo portion, which is less than 1 percent.  Am I frustrated?, yes, I get frustrated over something like that, anybody would.  When you've worked your life up here and given my life to this zoo and city."

Americans for Prosperity - a national conservative advocacy group funded by Charles and David Koch - mailed Franklin County voters a flier urging them to "stop the money grab."

The brochure says property taxes will rise 105% if the levy is approved.  The mailer does not clarify that it is only increasing the zoo portion of the property tax bill.

Hanna says many voters have been confused but have worked out the math on their own.

"I was just talking to a woman who says her house is almost worth $200,000 and she added it up and the levy would be around $80 a year," said Hanna.  "And she said when you take the two half-free days you give us with our family of four, that gets down to $40 a year.  That’s only $20 extra a year."

Hanna also says the world is watching to see what Franklin County voters decide.

"This won't just be local news whichever way it goes, it will be national news," said Hanna.  "Any other zoo in the country and it wouldn't be.  It just because of what we've been blessed to have up here."

Opponents spent the day before the election on the phone and personally reaching out to voters.

The Reverend Joel King of Columbus Action Network says the issue isn't about Jack Hanna.  He says it's the number of new initiatives within just one levy.

"It's already a first class zoo, so we're not building it up to where it ought to be, it's already there," said King.

King says instead of an increase, the current levy should just be renewed.

"To keep it there, let's put another 10 year levy on it at the same reduced price and everybody pays for it, reduce everybody's taxes and everybody enjoy it," said King.

The conservative Buckeye Institute issued a report that says Issue 6 would eliminate future voting on zoo levies.

"Previously they had to go back to the taxpayers every 10 years and ask ‘are we doing a good job?’”, said Robert Alt, president of the Buckeye Institute.  "This goes ahead and increases it and they never have to come back to taxpayers again."

Hanna says his word can be trusted on the levy after he spent years generating millions of dollars in free publicity for Columbus.

"Over 29 years on David Letterman, four to five times a year, and if you had to pay for that advertising, and you hear how he introduces me from the Columbus, Ohio Zoo, that's worth a little more than $800,000 a show," said Hanna.  "You take Good Morning America, now in my 31st year, six times a year.  You take Anderson Cooper, FOX and Friends, Ellen and all these shows where they mention Columbus, Ohio, you add all those up and it comes to $34 million dollars for this city and this county."

Franklin County voters will decide tomorrow whether to approve the permanent, $1.25 million levy to support the zoo and its expansion plans.

The property tax would replace a 10-year, $750,000 zoo levy that expires at the end of next year and cost homeowners $21 a year per $100,000 of assessed home value.

The new levy would cost $44 per $100,000. Part of the reason for the size of the increase is that the state no longer pays 12.5 percent of new levies for homeowners.

If the levy fails tomorrow, Hanna says another effort could happen as early as this fall.

"Yes it does personally hurt me but I'm not going to sit here and say 'well, Jack, you screwed up it's your fault,'" said Hanna.  "I can't say that.  If something were to happen I'll be right back out there on Wednesday morning at daylight.  Jack Hanna is not a person who is going to say we can't do something.  It will go." 

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