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Some Wayne County towns use money intended for Detroit Zoo for other projects

The Woodward Spine

Some communities in Wayne County have been using tens of thousands of dollars in property tax money intended to support the Detroit Zoo for their own civic improvement projects.

Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties approved a property tax increase in 2008 to help fund the Detroit Zoo. 

But the Detroit Free Press reports some Wayne County cities have collected the tax and spent it instead on sprucing up their own downtowns.  In some years, the money has added up to more than $200,000.

Andy Meisner is the Oakland County Treasurer.  He says state lawmakers who drafted the law, and local voters who approved the property tax hike, never intended the zoo tax to be used to help fund local downtown development agencies, otherwise known as DDAs.

“DDA capture of these funds was never intended or contemplated,” says Meisner.  “To take those monies and divert those monies from their intended pursue is something that goes against the will of the people who voted.”  

Local officials insist they are acting legally.

The Michigan Attorney General’s office has sent letters to the local communities that are using the zoo tax funds, advising them that the use of the money is illegal.

There is some concern that the same communities might now be looking for another source of revenue, specifically a voter approved measure raising money to help fund the Detroit Institute of Arts, which was passed by voters in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties last August. 

Meisner says the courts may eventually have to decide the issue.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.