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County voters will decide whether to raise sales tax for the St. Louis Zoo

A child looks at one of two grizzly bear cubs at the St. Louis Zoo in September 2017.
File photo I David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
A child looks at one of two grizzly bear cubs at the St. Louis Zoo in September 2017.

Members of the St. Louis County Council are placing an one-eighth of one cent sales tax on the November ballot to benefit the St. Louis Zoo.

While proponents of the measure believe it could enliven a part of the county that’s struggled economically, others believe it places too much of a burden on residents already shelling out property taxes to fund the zoo.

The council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to place the tax increase on the ballot, which will add about 12 cents to a $100 purchase. If approved, the tax will generate about $20 million a year, with the proceeds going to spruce up the Forest Park campus and build a breeding facility and potential adventure park in north St. Louis County.

Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Blackjack, said the North County attraction will be a fun and economically significant place for her constituents. She also liked how county residents will get into the breeding facility for free, while residents of places that don’t adopt the tax will likely have to pay an admission fee.

“At least this is a tax where those people who are paying the tax, although it is regressive, they will get to see where their money is going,” Walton Gray said. “That’s something we don’t always get with our sales tax money.”

The legislation that authorized the one-eighth sales tax allows for the measure to go for a vote in St. Louis and St. Louis County but not surrounding areas like Jefferson and St. Charles counties.

That’s been a big hangup for Councilman Mark Harder, who joined Councilman Ernie Trakas in voting against putting the tax hike up for a vote.

“A lot of our taxing districts are over 10 percent now,” said Harder, R-Ballwin. “And this is either going to put some over 10, or maybe even over 11 in some of the taxing districts. And I think we’re at a point that people don’t want any [sales tax increases].”

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, said she’s heard both positive and negative reactions to the zoo tax proposal in her district. She said the best way to decide the matter is a public vote.

“I’ve polled people in every event that I’ve gone to,” Erby said. “So I don’t feel this is lazy of me to put this on the ballot so that people can decide.”

In a statement, St. Louis Zoo President and CEO Jeffrey Bonner said, “We look forward to meeting with St. Louis City leaders next to discuss our needs and how to meet them.” That could mean that the St. Louis Board of Aldermen may soon be considering a similar sales tax hike for city residents.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.