(WICHITA, Kan.)—Sedgwick county leaders get another round of feedback... as they struggle with trying to balance the county budget.
Next week commissioners vote on a budget that eliminates a more than nine-million dollar deficit...
The proposal lays off some county employees...closes the Judge Riddell Boys Ranch...and cuts funding for county agencies and services...cuts that places like the Sedgwick County Zoo say, they can't absorb.
Zoo board president Scott Oaks says, "It doesn't give us any money for upkeep of infrastructure at the zoo."
Infrastructure like the bars that keep the rhinos away from the visitors. they haven't been replaced in decades
Other areas need hundreds of thousands in repairs and replacements.
The zoo already saw a cut of more than 6-percent last year that eliminated staff through attrition.
Oaks says another 5-percent cut this year will hurt the zoo and the community, "We generate 45-million dollars worth of tourism dollars that come into Sedgwick county, half of that comes from outside the county. Why strangle the goose that's laying the golden egg?"
County Commissioner Tim Norton agrees the situation is far from ideal, "I'm not really supportive of those kind of cuts, but when you look at the budget, the revenues, what we're trying to do wholeistically around the county, all the different services and provisions that we do, somebody's ox gets gored."
The non-profit zoo raised ticket prices last year...officials say that's not really an option again.
"98% of the people who come through here are families, bringing in relatives and we want to make it family friendly and affordable".
Families like that of Birdie Smith, who says, "It's always been one of the best run things in the wichita are in my opinion, and I think they ought to just leave it alone...the zoo, whoever runs the zoo does a good job."
About 600-thousand people visit the zoo every year, the majority from outside the county.
What kind of zoo they'll continue to find in the future is still up in the air.
Commission Norton says, "This isn't the final budget. We're still listening, still trying to understand community values and we'll continue to look at where we fund it and maybe the zoo will get a little more money, but, can't promise anything".