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Council Trims Mayor’s New BioPark Fees

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Albuquerque city councilors want Mayor Richard Berry to trim $1 from the fee hike his administration imposed at the Biological Park this summer.

The council voted 5-4 on Monday to set the general admission price at $9 for adults who live in New Mexico. The fee had been $7 until early September, when Berry raised it to $10 as part of a plan to pay for better maintenance and upkeep at the zoo, aquarium and other BioPark locations.

The administration later acknowledged it needed council approval for the plan.

The legislation adopted Monday would provide about $1.2 million a year in new revenue, which is roughly what the administration says is needed to pay for a maintenance crew and supplies.

The council bill boosts the fees levied on out-of-state visitors, who would pay $12.50 for basic adult admission. The BioPark hasn’t charged separate rates for such visitors before.

Councilor Isaac Benton, who sponsored the bill, said it was a compromise aimed at keeping the fee increase as low as possible for New Mexicans while still providing the extra money for repairs. It’s common for zoos elsewhere to charge more for out-of-town visitors, he said.

“If somebody travels to Albuquerque on vacation,” Benton said, “then more than likely they can afford the increase.”

In an interview, Berry said the council legislation appears to “raise the amount of money we need to do the job right,” despite making some changes in the fee structure.

“It looks like a good compromise bill,” he said. “… Sometimes you just have to invest in great assets to make sure they have a bright future.”

Benton’s bill won approval with councilors Trudy Jones, Brad Winter, Michael Cook and Don Harris joining him in favor. Opposed were Rey Garduño, Ken Sanchez, Debbie O’Malley and Dan Lewis – all of whom seemed to favor either a lesser increase or no increase at all.

Sanchez, in particular, pushed for an $8 basic admission fee. To ensure there was enough money for the maintenance crew, he also called for tapping into unspent funds set aside for a penguin exhibit.

“I’d just like to keep it as affordable as possible,” Sanchez said at one point.

O’Malley echoed that sentiment.

“These are great public facilities,” she said. “I want as many people as possible to enjoy them.”

Monday’s council bill now goes to the mayor. If approved by him, it would set the BioPark fees at:

Julie Rugg, executive director of the New Mexico BioPark Society, which raises private money for exhibits, said the council legislation is a “solution that works,” though she preferred the mayor’s initial plan.

The construction team at the Biological Park has historically been paid with general-obligation bond money approved by voters, city officials say. But the BioPark received so little in recent bond cycles – as needs elsewhere in the city were addressed – that the money is expected to run out.

The increase in admission prices was aimed at generating revenue to keep the roughly 20 employees on the payroll, though they would now focus on maintenance rather than new construction. That, in turn, frees up the bond program to pay for BioPark renovation and rehabilitation, which the mayor says is a critical need.

The BioPark isn’t entirely supported through admission fees. Its annual operating budget is about $12 million, about $3.8 million of which has historically come from fees. The extra $1.2 million from the admission-fee increase would boost that figure to about $5 million.

The remainder of the BioPark budget comes from City Hall’s basic operating budget.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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