The House and Senate restored an additional $2.5 million in Zoo New England funding Wednesday, one month after Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed $4 million of the $6.5 million set aside for the nonprofit corporation that represents Stone and Franklin Park zoos.

 

The House and Senate restored an additional $2.5 million in Zoo New England funding Wednesday, one month after Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed $4 million of the $6.5 million set aside for the nonprofit corporation that represents Stone and Franklin Park zoos.   Just after the veto, the zoos released a statement that announced at least one of the two facilities would have to close as a result of the 62 percent cut in state funding. There were also talks that 20 percent of the animals would have to be euthanized since new homes would most likely not be found due to space or virus issues.   But in the last month, several legislators — including Stoneham’s delegation of Sen. Richard Tisei and representatives Jason Lewis and James Dwyer — have shown their support, and the zoos’ funding has been restored to $5 million. The figure, however, is still $1.5 million less than what was originally set aside in the fiscal 2010 budget, and 30 percent less than fiscal 2009 funding, Lewis said.   “The zoos are going to have to work hard to try to increase private fundraising,” Lewis said. “That’s always been their goal, to become more self-sufficient over time. This just means they’ll have to accelerate those efforts.”   “Although there are a host of variables involved in trying to make this funding level work, and our progress toward greater self-sufficiency will certainly be slowed, the bottom line is that — with $5 million in public funding — both zoos will remain open,” said a Zoo New England statement.   Tisei said the zoos’ reliance on state funding has decreased from 100 percent to 60 percent, and in another five years will hopefully be down to 40 percent. The zoos have also had record turnouts with 568,797 visitors last year.   “This is not an agency that’s in trouble. They are becoming more and more self-sufficient every day,” Tisei said.   But with the intense acceleration in funding cuts, the zoos will have to become more self-sufficient in less time. And local legislators are pleading with the community to support these local attractions.   “The Stone Zoo is an important educational, cultural and economic asset for the residents of Stoneham and its surrounding communities,” Dwyer said.   “I’m pleased that, for now, we’ve found a way to keep the zoos open and operating, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” Tisei added. “Stone is very close to being self-sufficient and has such a promising future ahead of it.”   Supplemental budget   The funding restoration was part of a larger supplemental budget passed by the House and Senate that is currently on the governor’s desk waiting for a signature. He has until Saturday to sign off on the changes.   “With the supplemental budget, the fiscal year 2010 is now balanced; with the governor’s vetoes and with changes since the beginning of the fiscal year, the budget was $30 million out of balance,” Lewis said. “The governor vetoed about $120 million in spending in the budget. This supplemental budget restored about a third of that. But it does not restore all of what he vetoed.”   The supplemental budget includes funding for such agencies and services as: $40 million for legal immigrant health care through Commonwealth Care; emergency food assistance, including the Stoneham Board of Health Food Pantry; nursing homes; substance abuse prevention; foster care; mental health; libraries; and local housing authorities that provide subsidized housing in towns such as Stoneham.   Patrick wanted $70 million for legal immigrant health care, but only received $40 million. Despite this, he is expected to sign the supplemental budget without further objection.   Of course, Zoo New England didn’t get as much funding as it would have liked, but, as Lewis says, this is all part of the compromise when dealing with a fiscal crisis.   “The governor and Legislature have been in a very difficult position cause the tax revenues have plummeted. So it’s just a matter of making tough choices and keeping the budget balanced,” said Lewis.   “What was great to see within the Legislature was that my colleagues understood that supporting the zoos is not about choosing between people vs. animals, that the zoos are all about people. They provide economic benefits, educational opportunities, affordable recreation for families — particularly during these tough economic times. That’s why they’re so important,” he said.    “Out of crisis comes opportunity, so maybe they can take advantage of all this outpouring of support and turn that into increased membership, visitors and private donors,” he added.