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Editorial: County right to wade in, support new otter exhibit

The Albuquerque BioPark is New Mexico’s No. 1 tourist attraction, drawing 1.2 million visitors every year.

More than half are from the metro area, with the remaining 40 percent evenly split between in-state and out-of-state visitors.

Yet the bulk of the BioPark’s funding comes from the city of Albuquerque. In a competitive recreational-dollars world, where a nearby city like El Paso is investing tens of millions of dollars to double the size of its zoo, it’s important for the entire metro area, as well as the state, to reinvest in the BioPark.

So the Bernalillo County Commission did the right thing in placing Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley’s proposal on the November ballot to use $2 million in bonding capacity to help fund a new otter exhibit at the aquarium. The city has already paid for the design and the BioPark Society plans to ask the state to pick up the balance of the $2.5 million tab.

Investing in the BioPark is important. The river otters – a native New Mexico species trapped out of existence in the 1950s – would replace a ship display at the aquarium. The otter exhibit is projected to increase attendance by 22 percent in 2016; all visitors help support the park with entrance fees; non-Metro-area visitors also spend on meals, fuel and lodging.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson was the lone vote against the ballot measure, saying there are 180 miles of unpaved roads in his East Mountains district that could use the money.

But one third of the county’s proposed bond program – about $9 million, which will be funded by all Albuquerque taxpayers, as well as those in the unincorporated county – will go to roads. If approved, the total $27.5 million package would not increase property taxes; if rejected, the owner of a $180,000 home would save just $24 a year.

And while river otters are not a “need” the county is statutorily responsible for meeting, like roads and fire stations and the jail, people don’t come to or stay in an area simply because bare minimums are met.

The otter exhibit funding exemplifies the kind of sharing-the-burden/quality-of-life investment needed to ensure Bernalillo County and New Mexico remain places people want to visit and live in. Commissioners were right to place it on the ballot and voters should support it Nov. 4.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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