Judge sides with Cass County in “Zoo Tax” ruling

Commision said they were not obligated to act

bbashioum@demo-mo.com June 8, 2012 

Cass County Judge Michael Wagner sided with the Cass County Commissioners in their decision to reject a motion to hold a November election last year for the Kansas City “zoo tax.”

Wagner denied the complaint on May 15 filed by Derek Teeter, the attorney representing Friends of the Zoo, to require commissioners to bring the issue to a vote.

“We’re happy with the results,” said Paul Campo, attorney for Cass County. “We felt like plaintiffs were reading way too much into the statute that wasn’t there and were pleased with the courts sticking with the statutes’ plain language.”

In August, campaigners from Friends of the Zoo, the organization that operates the Kansas City Zoo, filed a petition in Cass County, as well as in Clay, Jackson, and Platte Counties to ask voter approval on a one-eighth cent sales proposal that would go to support the animal park.

Cass County Commissioners said that the legislation created for the proposed Kansas City Zoological District did not obligate the commission to act.

Putting the issue on a ballot would have also left Cass County responsible to pick up a $65,000 to $80,000 tab to cover the administrative costs of holding an election with no other issues on the ballot.

Commissioner Brian Baker said the judge interpreted the law to mean that Cass County may choose to send a tax to the vote, but is not required to hold an election.

Supporters of the zoo tax said that if it had been approved in all four proposed counties, about $17.5 million per year would have been raised for the zoo. Proceeds from the tax would be used to further upgrade the zoo’s facilities and educational programs.

Prior to the Nov. 8 election, there was speculation that the Friends of the Zoo’s campaign committed to pay the costs of Jackson County’s special election, but there was not a similar promise made to Cass County.

“It is important the sovereignty of Cass County be put first and we keep our tax dollars here to provide the basic services, like roads and law enforcement,” Baker said.

Commissioners in Platte County also decided not to take measures to place the issue on their ballot.

Friends of the Zoo filed a similar complaint against the Platte County Commissioners. Robert Shaw, the attorney representing Platte County, said the lawsuit is still pending.

Jackson County voters approved the measure with 63.8 percent of the vote. Clay County approved the sales tax with 51.9 percent approval.

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