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Put strings on zoo bonds

Under normal economic circumstances, we would be eager to recommend voter approval of $125 million in bonds to improve the Oregon Zoo, the state's most visited attraction.

We think most voters are sympathetic to the zoo's cause as well

The zoo, after all, is a special place where more than 1.5 million visitors annually gather in excitement to observe and learn about a diverse array of wildlife.

The zoo also is a place of important research and animal stewardship. Since 1959, the zoo has been a point of pride for Portland-area residents.

Yet, nearly 50 years later, many features of the zoo are tired, inadequate for the appropriate and most humane treatment of animals, and highly inefficient when it comes to the use of resources such as water.

But in this economy, we think voters should put immediate needs first. In our mind, education and public safety come first. Measures like improving the zoo fall next in line.

That's why we think that the only way voters should approve Measure 26-96 is if the Metro Council agrees not to issue the bonds until the economy improves to a level of stability equal to this past January.

That test can be measured against Oregon unemployment rates and the level of national stock markets.

If the council takes this approach, the property tax for this measure would not be applied to property owners until the bonds are sold at a later date.

Voters could then say 'yes' we are doing the right thing for the zoo, but breathe a sigh of relief knowing their property taxes would be not affected for some time.

This is an important and appropriate economic and public investment strategy.

Even though the property tax rate of the zoo measure is only 9 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation - or $25.20 per year on a $280,000 home - many local residents are suffering in the current economy.

For them and many others, no tax, however slight, is too small to care about.That's why we think that a decision to delay issuing the bonds and spend the money later would be applauded by voters and taxpayers.

And if the zoo knows up front that the funds are approved, it will have the opportunity to plan the most-needed improvements on a slower schedule and still ensure animal and employee safety while offering an enhanced experience for zoo visitors.