Verify: Will Senate Bill 49 add entrance fees at St. Louis Zoo?

There's a proposal raising questions about funding, and whether people will have pay to get into the zoo.

The St. Louis zoo was just recognized as the most popular zoo in America. One of the biggest draws is the fact it's free to visit. But there's a proposal raising questions about funding, and whether people will have pay to get into the zoo.

It's the focus of a new segment we call Verify and it's our effort to give more facts and context and be transparent about our news gathering.

The Five on Your Side Verify team reached out to State Senator Gina Walsh (D), Bellefontaine Neighbors, the sponsor of Senate bill 49 and Joe Ambrose, the president of the St. Louis Zoo Association, for answers.

The St. Louis Zoo is one of the jewels of Forest Park and a favorite of visitors.

“I like taking my kids here,” said Amy Gamlin. “We like going to the polar bear exhibit, riding the train and the carousel.”

Right now it won't cost you a penny to get in.

“We can stay for 30 minutes or we can stay all day. So we love that there’s no cost,” said visitor Darcy Zenker.

But, there are questions as to whether Senate Bill 49 might change that.

Senator Gina Walsh says if passed Senate Bill 49 would allow St. Louis and St. Louis County to put sales tax initiatives on future ballots to raise money specifically for the zoo.

Right now any county sales tax must split part of the money raised with municipalities. Senate Bill 49 would remove that provision as well as cap the amount that could be requested for future zoo tax initiatives.

Joseph Ambrose, President of the St. Louis Zoo Association sent Five on Your Side a statement saying any new money would be put to good use.

"If a modest tax is ultimately approved by the voters, the Zoo would be able to address infrastructure needs on its century-old campus and remain affordable and accessible to all," wrote Ambrose.

So how will all this affect the cost to get in? Turns out, it won't.

“The Zoo’s going to remain free for everybody and that was my goal,” said Walsh.

We verified Walsh’s statement, but learned there’s a bit of a catch.

Nobody will have to pay to get into the zoo. But some people might have to pay to get into new attractions built in the future.

Walsh says St. Louis and St. Louis County residents would be exempt from any entrance charges at new attractions because they already pay about $20 million per year in property taxes to support the zoo. However, if this issue is approved, those residents could eventually pay more taxes.

Senate Bill 49 would give the Zoo authority to charge non-St. Louis and St. Louis County residents to get into any new attractions because they do not currently pay taxes to support the zoo.

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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