I am a huge fan of the Cohanzick Zoo! Since I moved to this area in 1994, I have been visiting. Holly, the black bear and Ganesha the white tiger are the highlights for me. But the menagerie is diverse in this free zoo in Bridgeton. There’s lots to keep folks interested.
I took my wife there on dates before we were married. Guests who visit from out of town are taken there. And since Beetle and Fritz were born, the Cohanzick Zoo is a frequent stop in the family travels.
One of the reasons it’s a big draw for us is because of the price: zip! Now, we are realistic enough to know nothing is free. Apparently, the zoo operates on a $400,000+ budget. Most of that is picked up by the city of Bridgeton. For nearly 75 years, the city has footed the bill for the zoo.
But the town, like the rest of America, is on economic hard times. So, last Wednesday, The Press of Atlantic City (that’s Atlantic County) pitched an idea for the survival of the zoo: Cumberland County should pick up the freight . . . or at minimum contribute more than it is.
What the editors at the beach have sorely missed is that the county tax rate in Cumberland County has skyrocketed over the last few years. Even the 3 Js and their cronies place the blame squarely on the freeholders. Even so, the county provides $20,000 annually to the zoo with the proviso that the zoo remain free.
Since the beach bums seem to not have a firm handle on Cumberland County, allow me to share. Our county is the poorest in the state. Teen pregnancy rates are a perennial problem. We are home to three Abbott school districts. We have UEZ here. There is no substantial public transportation. Unemployment is rampant. And the gangs have moved in. Things are not good here.
For the past 12 years, Lou Magazzu has served on the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Since 2001, Cumberland County has been directed by Magazzu. During these eight years county tax rates have risen for one pet project after another. In 2005, the tax rate to the county for Millville was 2.34%. In 2008 it was 3.025%. Sweetheart deals are made. Land deals are magically inflated. All the while, King Magazzu rules. He crafted an all-Democrat freeholder board. There is no opposition. This is one-party rule at its worse.
But Magazzu is unpopular, even with his own party. Things are so bad that this year there are three Democrats running independently of the county party to challenge Magazzu, who is up for re-election. It’s becoming ugly. With an even more unpopular governor and a recession, Magazzu is deep straits. Of course, so were the municipal commissioners and they were recently re-elected.
The point, however, is that Cumberland County is a mess. And while the zoo is an asset to the community, the county cannot take it over. We can’t afford another expense at the county level. It is totally out of line for the beach bums to overlook the blight that we have here and then suggest the county should do more. Shame on The Press. Their proposal would be akin to me suggesting that the CRDA fork over the money to run the zoo for the next 50 years. Does that sound reasonable? I suspect not. Although, I note it does support the Cape May Zoo.
In tough times, despite discussion of investments, government needs to toe the line. Expanding governmental services is poor politics. If during the economic boom, Czar Magazzu had been fiscally responsible and streamlined government, tax rates would not be climbing now to support the bloat that was added on his watch.
We love the zoo, but we can’t afford it. If Bridgeton can’t either, then perhaps finding a private buyer is the next step. Or closure. My wallet does not have to be the answer for every problem government encounters.
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