The survey is in.
It shows a majority of Collier County voters are willing to tax themselves to expand the Naples Zoo.
The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation group that supports the expansion, hired Public Opinion Strategies to survey 300 voters in the county by phone. They were asked whether they would pay more taxes to purchase 22 acres of vacant land to grow the zoo.
The zoo hopes to get the question on the November ballot.
In the survey, 55 percent of the voters said if the election was held today they would vote yes to support a $30 million bond, which would be paid off with a property tax increase. Another 41 percent opposed the idea, mainly questioning whether now is the time to make such an investment when the local economy is ailing.
When given more information about the bond proposal in the survey and how it would affect them personally, voters became more supportive, with 64 percent indicating they would vote yes.
The tax increase would not exceed .1 mill and would be collected for up to five years. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 worth of property.
The bond proposal would increase taxes by $11.25 for every $100,000 of assessed value.
The results of the survey will be shared with Collier County commissioners on Tuesday. The Trust for Public Land is hoping to get the board’s blessing to go ahead with getting appraisals to determine the purchase price.
“We will give them the facts and data, and they will make the decision about whether they want to proceed or not,” said John Garrison, a field office director for the Trust for Public Land’s Southwest Florida office.
Collier County commissioners would have to make the ultimate decision on whether to put the measure on the ballot. They have until July to make a decision.
“We think this is a great thing and we want the zoo to expand, if the voters decide they are willing to pay a few more dollars in taxes to let that happen,” Garrison said.
This would be the second time taxpayers would be asked to help the more than 40-year-old zoo off Goodlette-Frank Road.
In November 2004, voters approved a referendum to save the zoo, agreeing to tax themselves to pay for the land it sits on today. At the time, the attraction faced the threat of redevelopment.
The property involved in the first referendum — which was supported by 73 percent of voters — was paid off early.
The land the zoo is eyeing for an expansion was once slated for a senior housing project, which has fallen victim to the bad economy. The vacant land is north and east of the zoo and would increase the attraction’s size by almost 50 percent to about 65 acres.
In the survey, voters were overwhelmingly positive in their view of the zoo.
David Tetzlaff, zoo director, said he was encouraged by the survey results. He pointed out that there is still more time to educate voters about the referendum and the proposal for expansion.
“People I’ve personally talked to think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I haven’t heard one negative from face-to-face conversations.”