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Des Moines utility: Zoo must start paying for water service

Des Moines utility: Zoo must start paying for water service
March 14
12:28 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa: A utility has demanded that a Des Moines zoo start paying its water and sewer bills but the foundation that runs the facility said that could jeopardize programs including one that provides free tickets for thousands of children.

The Des Moines Water Works board is willing to forgive most of the $5 million in water and sewer services that Blank Park Zoo has not paid since 2003, but the utility wants $74,000 for the water it used last year, The Des Moines Register reported.

The zoo is one of the utility’s top 50 largest water customers, using a monthly average of about 3.5 million gallons, said utility spokeswoman Laura Sarcone.

“Any amount unbilled to a single customer affects all customers,” Sarcone said. “Des Moines water ratepayers are bearing the burden of the zoo’s free’ water, even though it is a statewide and/or regional attraction.”

The Blank Park Zoo Foundation was told it would not have to pay utilities when it took over zoo operations from the city in 2003, said the zoo’s President, Mark Vukovich. The city, which still owns the property and buildings, previously received free water and sewer services when it operated the zoo.

The utility does provide free water to some city facilities, but the free water deal for the zoo should have ended when the management switch occurred, the utility said.

City, utility and the zoo officials will meet this month to discuss the issue.

“I think we’re going to have to come up with some sort of compromise,” Mayor Frank Cownie said.

Utility officials and city leaders said they did not want to damage the zoo’s ability to draw in visitors. A program that provides 30,000 free tickets to children who otherwise would not be able to visit the zoo could be at risk if the foundation has to begin paying for utilities, Vukovich said.

The zoo had 486,000 visitors in the fiscal year that ended in October. AP

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