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Watertown city council split on approving $100,000 for Zoo New York

Zoo New York

The City of Watertown approved $100,000 for Zoo New York for the season by a 3 to 2 vote.

The funding is for the short term — funding the zoo to open for the season on May 4. Council members were split on approving the additional funding. Council member Cliff Olney voted in favor of the $100,000.

"I know there's been a lot of things have been said about, 'Well, the thing will never be self-sustaining,'" Olney said. "I believe it can be, but it has to have the right investment, the right opportunity to be. And then and only then, I think if then it doesn't work, okay, all right, we gave it our best shot."

Councilor Bob Kimball voted in favor of the funding.

"Let's be frank, the zoo is owned by the city," Kimball said. "Some people say don't pay money for the zoo. We own the zoo. The city owns the zoo. So we either have to decide we're going to do something different with it or keep it going as a zoo, which may be its best purpose."

Council member Ben Shoen, along with Mayor Sarah Compo-Pierce voted against the funding. They say the city has other priorities for spending money like addressing water quality issues or the end of the hydropower deal with National Grid.

"My biggest issue was with most things is we're making decisions on a monetary basis, we have to decide whether or not we can afford this and that's really our only responsibility," Shoen said. "It's not whether we like it or we love it or we want it, it's whether we need it and our taxpayers and our residents can afford it."

In the long-term, Zoo New York had asked for $750,000 in annual funding for at least five years split between the City of Watertown and Jefferson County. No decision has been made on that.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.