Ron Forman says 50-year Audubon tax is needed - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Ron Forman says 50-year Audubon tax is needed

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - New Orleans voters are being asked to approve a 50-year tax for the Audubon Institute on the ballot Saturday.

The CEO of the Institute says it's needed to maintain world-class status, but some say it's too much.

Crowds filed into Audubon Zoo on a gorgeous day Thursday, unaware of how it used to be.

"We've seen this facility the worst in the country. We don't want to go there again," said CEO Ron Forman.

The Audubon Institute and Forman are asking voters to approve the tax - at the same rates previously approved - for the aquarium and the zoo to continue upgrades to 10 facilities.

"We need to redo the 1911 sea lion pool - we've got to rebuild it again," said Forman. "The birdhouse, a new elephant exhibit, a penguin exhibit."

But some say the  4.2-mill tax is too much.

"I'm afraid if Audubon takes the cream, everyone else is left with the skim milk," said real estate developer Lex Kelso with Green Coast Enterprises.

He says if the tax is approved, Audubon would get $12 million a year for the next 50 years, while hundreds of city parks and parkways get only $8 million a year - and there are more on the way.

"There are two major parks in this city still in the planning stages," said Kelso. "Crescent park, plus the Lafitte Greenway, which could be a signature attraction for the city."

Even though the requested tax is a little higher than voters are currently paying, there's no guarantee that that's the amount that taxpayers will ultimately have to fork over.

If voters approve the tax Saturday, the City Council would still have to authorize a rolling forward to the 4.2-mill rate, which is about $73 a year for a $250,000  home. Otherwise the rate stays at 3.31 mills.

"Having that tax, we take those dollars, and match them one to one to build world-class facilities like we have right now," Forman said.

Forman points out that the zoo and aquarium are the city's top family tourist destinations, worth an estimated $600 million a year in economic impact.

As for the nature center in New Orleans east, it has still not come back since Katrina. Forman said that project was held up by the city, but is now fully underway.

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