Dane County asking for $600K more for Henry Vilas Zoo annual budget

Contract with fundraising nonprofit ends Sunday
Dane County asking for $600K more for Henry Vilas Zoo annual budget

On Tuesday night, Dane County’s public works committee will vote to amend the 2019 operating budget for the Henry Vilas Zoo, adding nine more staff members and taking on some work currently being done by the Henry Vilas Zoological Society.

The county and zoological society have been negotiating the terms of a new contract for about 10 months, but have not been able to come to an agreement.

When the county’s contract with the society, the zoo’s fundraising partner for more than 100 years, ends on March 31, the county will take over the responsibility of on-grounds attractions, concessions, volunteer efforts, education programs, and marketing and outreach.

The county is asking for more than $600,000 to be added to the zoo’s budget, including salaries and insurance for nine new staff members, $3,000 for web hosting and $35,000 for custodial services.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi repeated his message that the zoo will remain free and the experience for visitors will remain the same, despite the end of the zoo’s relationship with the society.

. @DaneCoJoe (joined by zoo staff & giraffes) repeats his message that the visitor experience at @HenryVilasZoo will stay the same once their contract with their longtime fundraising partner ends on Sunday. #News3Now pic.twitter.com/tDGHuO2quK

— Amanda Quintana (@ AmandaQTV ) March 26, 2019

” Continuing to do something one way just because that’s the way we’ve always done it, is not how we should be doing business. We will engage in this process because, at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my community, a responsibility to do what’s best for our zoo, not necessarily what’s easiest, ” said Parisi .

He said the county is making these changes in order to keep its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Documents recently obtained by News 3 Now show the AZA had animal welfare concerns, listing animals spending too much time in small or sparse areas and insufficient veterinary coverage among its ” major concerns ” at the zoo.

Zoological vice chair Amy Supple said the AZA has never mentioned an issue with the nonprofit’s grounds operation or fundraising.

” The report actually lauds our role and the successes that we’ve had. So not having us as a partner actually could be detrimental to the AZA accreditation and not the reverse, ” said Supple.

The county will also hire a consultant to show them how other zoos across the country partner with their fundraising partners.

After figuring out the best model for a partnership, Parisi said the county will request proposals from nonprofits that are interested in fundraising for the zoo. He expects the society will prepare a proposal.

Supple said responding to that request for proposal months from now will be ” difficult, if not impossible ” for the society.

The Henry Vilas Zoological Society vice chair says come Sunday, “we will no longer have employees, we will no longer be an operating and functioning organization.” The contract with Dane Co. ends March 31. The nonprofit has been the zoo’s fundraising partner for 103 years. pic.twitter.com/jND79s1Qv0

— Amanda Quintana (@ AmandaQTV ) March 26, 2019

” The issue that we have is, as of Sunday, we will no longer have employees, we will no longer be an operating and functioning organization, ” she said.

She is holding onto hope that the county will accept the society’s most recent proposal that gives the county operation of the zoo grounds but keeps the society as a fundraising partner.

It’s unlikely that that agreement would happen in the next five days.

Parisi said one of the things the AZA requires is a ” positive and cooperative relationship with our support organization. ”

” That’s why we feel it’s important to step back, take a deep breath and work with the expert consultant that we’re hiring to formulate , look at best practices across the nation and determine the proper, best fit model for our zoo, ” said Parisi .

We should also mention that WISC-tv has a joint marketing agreement with the Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo which includes various things like sponsorship of zoo events and the weather camera that you see on the air.

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