Salisbury Agrees To Shift Funding For Zoo Project

SALISBURY — In a special meeting Thursday morning, the Salisbury City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the re-allocation of a portion of the funds from a 2008 Public Improvements Bond to the Salisbury Zoo for the construction of their animal health building.

“In a nutshell, we’re basically transferring the ability to use those funds from one project to another,” said city attorney Mark Tilghman.

Up to $539,000 from that Public Improvement Bond has been re-directed toward the animal health building with any remainder going toward construction and engineering of the Riverwalk along the Wicomico River East Prong. The bond was originally allocated to the Waverly Drive Storm Sewer Project.

Exactly how much of that $539,000 will need to be tapped for the animal health building is currently unknown. The contract for the construction is around $1.8 million, with the city and state already each contributing $500,000 and private donors to the zoo supplying a big chunk of the $800,000 they’ve raised through donations. However, the contract with GGI Builders Inc. does not cover the purchase of several room-sized animal cages as well as the generator and pump for a new sprinkler system; the as of yet unknown cost of those additions will come out of the $539,000 re-allocated this week from the Public Improvement Bond.

The council agreed that supplying funding for the construction of the zoo’s animal health building is a worthy use of the money, though Councilwoman Terry Cohen asked the Salisbury Zoo to keep a close eye on continued costs.

“I think we really need to be mindful of what this investment is. I understand that everyone wants to get this done,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming. At the same time, this is, in essence, an insurance policy for the animals and it’s a really, really expensive one.”

Instead of thinking in terms of growing the zoo further too fast, Cohen suggested focusing on making sure there is funding in place to support everything that currently exists.

“I know that it’s much sexier to ask donors to provide money for something new but what we’re going to get is that if all of our fundraising efforts only go towards new additions for the zoo,” she said. “We’re not going to have enough money in the coffers to maintain what we’ve got.”

While the zoo does look toward smart growth, it is also very aware that money has to be managed carefully, said Stacey Weisner, executive director of the Delmarva Zoological Society (DZS).

“We try very hard to make sure that we use our donors’ money really well,” she told Cohen. “We communicate at all times to let them know what’s getting done.”

Sustainability is taken seriously, added Weisner, as are the partnerships between the zoo, the city and private donors. Councilwoman Laura Mitchell singled out those donors for the contributions they’ve made to the Salisbury Zoo.

“I would just like to thank DZS and the Zoo Commission and everyone that was involved with this but most of all the donors, the people that believed enough in the zoo and cared enough about the zoo to give up their hard-earned money, over $800,000. That’s a whole lot of donating and that’s a whole lot of appreciation,” Mitchell said.