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City Council OKs zoo admission fees

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The Spring River Zoo will start charging admission fees on Jan. 1 after the Roswell City Council approved the proposal by a split vote Thursday night.

The resolution had only a slight change from the original proposal, changing wording to include “school-age groups” in its rates rather than “school groups.” The amended resolution passed 6-3 after more than a half hour of discussion.

Voting in favor of the zoo fees were Councilors Judy Stubbs, Barry Foster, Jeanine Best, Margaret Kennard, Jason Perry and Savino Sanchez. Councilors Juan Oropesa, George Peterson and Angela Moore voted against it. Councilor Jacob Roebuck was absent from the meeting.

In 2019, the City Council set a cost recovery plan for the zoo, setting a goal this year and next for the zoo to generate revenue equal to 5% of its operational costs, Zoo Curator Andrea Cole said in her presentation. Those goals will increase to 45% in 2023.

At 5%, the zoo will be expected to generate $25,000, Cole said. The 45% goal would mean the zoo would generate $229,000.

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The fees will be as follows:

• Adults 16 and older: $5 for Roswell residents, $10 for non-residents.

• Children age 4 to 15: $2.50 for residents, $3.50 for non-residents.

• Students 16 and older, adults 60 and older, active military and veterans: $3.

• Groups of 10 or more: $3 per person.

• School-age groups including chaperones with reservations: $2 per person.

Children age 3 and under and members of the Friends of Spring River Zoo will be admitted free. The first Saturday of each month will be free for Roswell residents. Adults 60 and older will be admitted free every Wednesday.

Free admission will be offered on July 31, the anniversary of the zoo’s opening at its present location, which will be Spring River Zoo Day.

The adjacent Spring River Park will be free of admission charges.

In addition, the zoo curator is free to make exemptions to admission fees for promotional or programming purposes or for people with financial hardships.

The zoo has been closed since March under the initial public health order in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but work has continued on the new mountain lion exhibit and other projects. An opening date has not been announced, but the zoo is taking reservations for private group tours.

Several councilors said they had toured the zoo and complimented Cole and the zoo staff on the amount of work that has been done, as well as the cooperation from other city departments.

“The mountain lion exhibit, I would put it against anything in the nation. It is state of the art,” Perry said.

“Even the goose looks happy,” he said.

Perry also said it needs to be recognized the zoo has never been truly free to the public, as it has been subsidized by tax money.

“We’ve been paying for it as taxpayers for years, but we’ve paid for it with a cost. It has cost our other services to not be able to have some of the things they needed as well,” he said.

Speaking against the fees, Peterson said cities should subsidize some offerings.

“We’re kind of like a socialist city. We subsidize things, that’s what cities do, your police, fire, all that,” he said.

He then said the zoo is “not very good,” although he didn’t blame the staff for that, and said the Roswell zoo shouldn’t be compared to Living Desert Zoo in Carlsbad or the Albuquerque BioPark. Cole had shown admission prices at those and other zoos as comparison.

“Those are nice zoos. If we had that here, I would pay all the time,” Peterson said.

Perry, in response, said those zoos are what they are today because they have charged admission fees and the Roswell zoo staff should have that same chance.

“If this council will not give them the tools to do it with, it will never be the gem that we all desire for it to be,” he said.

Oropesa questioned why the carousel and miniature train could not be separated from the zoo so those wanting just to ride either would not have to pay zoo admission to do so.

“They have to go through the zoo in order to make use of the carousel or the train. I don’t agree with that. I think the carousel and the train should be away from the zoo,” he said.

City Manager Joe Neeb said when the zoo’s master plan was being put together in 2017, that was examined.

“Because of the location where the train is loaded and unloaded at, where the carousel is located, it was impossible to separate those entities from the zoo itself,” Neeb said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.