The Salt Lake County Council opted Thursday to not let voters decide in November whether to issue a multimillion-dollar bond to pay for improvements at Hogle Zoo.

Zoo officials wanted the $65 million to revamp its aging facilities, and even build some new ones. But the Republicans on the council balked at the request, saying property-tax money should not be used on the zoo when that same property-tax money is also needed to fix Utah's education system. The request failed on a 5-4, party-line vote.

"It's about priorities," Councilman Jeff Allen said. "For me, we have other greater priorities, such as education. ... I have a hard time burdening anybody with additional projects without getting this very first priority addressed or at least moving in the right direction."

The only way at least three Republicans said they would vote to put the bond on the ballot was if the Legislature "equalized" school construction costs during Wednesday's special session. However, lawmakers didn't solve the problem, so Republicans on the Salt Lake County Council refused to put a property tax hike for the zoo on the ballot.

Zoo officials aren't giving up yet. Zoo Director Craig Dinsmore said he will continue to work with the county to get funding in the future.

"Of course we're disappointed," Dinsmore said. "It's a setback for now, but it will not deter us at all."

For now, zoo officials will focus on private fund raising, Dinsmore said. The zoo wants to raise $20 million in private funds in addition to the $65 million in public funds to build a new aquarium complex, a gorilla forest expansion, African savanna and large polar bear exhibits, a renovated penguin enclosure and an "enhanced" south entrance with 400 more parking spots.

"We'll stay the course and continue to work with (the county), because it's not over yet," Dinsmore said.


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com