An overflow crowd filled the Scottsbluff City Council chambers Monday evening, as supporters of the Riverside Discovery Center came out in force to express their concerns about the city’s struggle to continue financial support for the zoo under a new contract.
At issue is the sunsetting 10 year support contract with the city, that currently provides $350,000 in annual funding. At the time that contract was signed, it was with the understanding that the zoo be self sustaining by the end of that contract.
Mayor Raymond Gonzales said the council also supports the zoo, but that with declining city revenues, the current $350,000 is just not sustainable.
He said the city is in a similar position, with no city planner, the elimination of the parks director position when it became vacant, and increased health insurance payments city employees have to make.
A number of avenues for finding the funding have been discussed, including occupation taxes and ideas to increase the zoo’s revenue and reduce costs.
RDC Executive Director Anthony Mason said they have already taken steps to reduce their monthly budget requirements through staffing adjustments. And he said he continues to look for ways to increase revenue, including looking to other communities for support. Mason says he will be attending several city council meetings in other towns in the coming weeks for possible outside support.
RDC Board President Jordan Colwell told KNEB News they continue to work with the council. He says this is the third time they have been before the council providing financials and projections, and really just hopes to be able to answer the council’s questions so they can come to an agreement.
Mayor Gonzales said the zoo is important, but that they have to find a number they can afford. Gonzales asked Jordan and the zoo board to continue providing information to the council so they can look over the zoo’s budget and the city’s budget to hopefully find some common ground.