Home News Local News City committee rejects zoo fees

City committee rejects zoo fees

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The zoo has been closed since March due to the pandemic. In this May 21 photo, Zoo Curator Andrea Cole, left, livestreams a presentation for Facebook. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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A fee proposal to charge for entry into the Spring River Zoo fell flat at a Wednesday meeting of a Roswell City Council committee.

The General Services Committee voted 2-1 to disapprove the fees, and a committee member opposing admission charges sought assurances that the matter would not be forwarded to another committee or the entire City Council for consideration.

City Manager Joe Neeb and Administrative Services Director Juan Fuentes said they do not intend to take further action on the matter, but Neeb also told Councilor Juan Oropesa that he could not say what other city councilors might choose to do.

“I don’t intend to move this forward,” said Neeb. “However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a conversation about i t with other city councilors or anybody else. Again, because it is a failed decision, that is closed. It is not my job to determine what the will of the City Council is.”

In the past, some proposed resolutions or actions that were voted down by committees were able to go directly to the City Council, if enough councilors agreed to have it placed on the agenda, or to another committee, which forwarded it to the City Council.

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Oropesa said he feels the purpose of having the committee review system is to decide what can and cannot move forward and bristled with what he felt was an effort by Chair Barry Foster to squelch any discussion about procedures. Before saying the committee needed to move on to other matters, Foster said he thinks city councilors serving on other committees have the ability to pick up the matter if they want.

Oropesa and Angela Moore typically have opposed new fees for city venues and attractions, and they rejected the zoo fee proposals while expressing support for current zoo staff and operations.

“I gave in for the museum, but I am not going to give in for the zoo,” said Moore. “I just feel like there’s got to be something that we offer as a city that everyone doesn’t have to pay for.”

She added that comparisons with other cities’ zoos and their fee structures are not valid because the Roswell zoo does not offer the same types of exhibits and features.

Entry fees at what are considered “enrichment” services of the city have been debated for about a year during numerous committee and City Council meetings, sometimes heatedly. Fees are the second step in a process after the city has adopted cost-recovery plans for the enrichment venues and facilities, including the Roswell Adult Center, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, the Spring River Zoo, the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River and the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center.

Those plans set revenue goals to offset operating costs and provide funding for future improvements. Fees to help support those cost-recovery plans have been approved for all venues now except the zoo, although it took a few tries for fees to be adopted for the Roswell Adult Center and the museum.

The Spring River Zoo fee plan presented Wednesday by Zoo Curator Andrea Cole would have left the park adjacent to the zoo on East College Boulevard free to visitors at all times and also offered several days of free admission.

Free days would have included the first Saturday of each month for Roswell residents, every Wednesday for senior citizens 60 years or older, and each July 31 in recognition of the zoo’s inaugural day in 1966 at its current location.

In addition, children 3 and younger and members of the Friends of Spring River Zoo always would have been admitted free. Cole said that zoo management also could have made the decision to waive fees if they felt the circumstances warranted it.

The fee proposal presented would have charged $5 for Roswell residents who are adults, 16 or older, and $10 for adults who are not local residents. Children 4 to 15 would have paid $2.50 if local residents and $3.50 if not. Students 16 or older, senior citizens 60 or older, and military members and veterans would have paid $3. Groups of 10 or more would have paid $3 a person. School groups with reservations would pay $2 a person.

Cole was asked about the train and carousel, which already have approved fee structures in place.

She told city councilors the rides would have been considered part of the zoo, so people would have to pay both a zoo entrance fee and an extra fee for those features. A “combo ticket” to offer a special price for both zoo entry and the rides had been considered, Cole said.

“Right now the current expenses that are created by that ticket actually go to help maintain that equipment,” said Neeb. “That is why we have determined, at least based on what we presented here, that those costs would be on top of what it cost to go in there.”

Without fees, the zoo will continue to have to earn money from parties and other private events, tours and donations. Closed to the public since March due to the pandemic, the zoo earned $1,678 from those activities in September.

A resolution passed in September 2019 sets a cost-recovery goal for the zoo of 5% of its operating costs for the current fiscal year, 25% in fiscal year 2022 and 45% in fiscal year 2023. Its operating budget in 2020 was about $650,156.

In other action Wednesday, the committee voted 3-0 to recommend approval of the purchase of three more buses by Pecos Trails Transit, the city’s bus service, during fiscal year 2022. The governing body already had approved the purchase of two new buses for that year.

The buses are needed to replace vehicles that need major repairs and have exceeded the 285,000 mileage expectations set by the state, according to Transit Director Becky Hicks.

The city’s 20% cost share for the vehicles will be $72,057. The New Mexico Department of Transportation pays for the remaining costs.

That item is due to be considered by the City Council at its Nov. 12 meeting.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.