- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Audubon Nature Institute’s CEO wants to regroup after voters rejected a proposed new 50-year tax for the non-profit which operates several attractions including the city’s zoo and aquarium.

Ron Forman tells WVUE-TV (http://bit.ly/1iwsLOf) that admission charges and concession revenue will be enough for operating costs but expansion plans will be put on hold.

The new tax would have replaced a 0.4-mill tax approved in 1972 for zoo improvements and maintenance, and a 3.8-mill tax approved in 1986 to build the Aquarium of the Americas. The New Orleans City Council rolled collections back to 3.31-mills in 2008 to reflect widespread higher property values after a citywide reassessment. That tax expires in 2021 and the zoo millage ends in 2022.

Nearly two-thirds of voters rejected the new 50-year proposal in Saturday’s election.

“We’ve heard the voters. There’s a strong feeling against taxes,” Forman said.

Much-anticipated projects that are already under construction, such as the Nature Center in New Orleans East, will continue.

“The elephant exhibit is a little too small for our elephants and we want to get more elephants at the zoo,” Forman said. “We’re looking at a new tiger exhibit, a new lion exhibit, a new African exhibit. We’re looking at redoing the sea lion pool, redoing the bird house. At the aquarium we’re looking a new penguin exhibit.”

Because of the proposed measure’s failure, he said long term projects to build new facilities will come to a standstill once the current millage expires.

“We heard what the vote was. We heard loud and clear, and our plan is to go back, review, but we’re just as committed and passionate about providing quality attractions for our families as ever. With that passion, we’re going to come back with a better plan and get it approved next time,” Forman said.

Forman said the Audubon Institute will match any money it receives in the future through property taxes, dollar per dollar. He said the zoo and aquarium are the city’s top family tourist destinations with an annual economic impact of $600 million.

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Information from: WVUE-TV, http://fox8live.com