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Brookfield Zoo Officials Angry Over Water Rates

BROOKFIELD, Ill. (CBS) - Officials at the Brookfield Zoo are going ape over a plan to raise their water rates.

Zoo officials claim they are being "victimized" by the Brookfield Village Board.

"It's not about water, and it's really about money," said Stuart Strahl, the zoo's director and president of the Chicago Zoological Society, of the move he anticipates will cost the zoo an additional $700,000 a year.

The board talked about the water rates at a board meeting on Monday, but did not take a vote.

According to a village board meeting memo, the zoo currently pays $2.94 per 1,000 gallons of water versus the $6.22 per 1,000 gallons paid by residents and small businesses.

The board memo calls the two-tiered pricing "preferential." The water rates were established in a 20-year contract that expired in 2009, though the zoo received a one-year extension.

More than 10 calls to various members of the village board and village manager were not returned. Two village trustees declined to comment on the zoo water rate or village finances in general in advance of Monday's meeting.

Strahl defended the zoo rate, saying the zoo was being charged as "a bulk user, a not-for-profit on public land." The zoo has also paid $2.55 million over 20 years to the village for water infrastructure maintenance, he said.

The water rate increase is the latest in a months' long back-and-forth between the zoo and the village board.

In June, village officials proposed an "amusement tax" on the zoo but backed down after zoo supporters flooded a village meeting. Strahl said he believed the tax — which would have cost the zoo $500,000 a year — was illegal.

Strahl said village officials then asked the zoo to enter into a "municipal service agreement" for roughly the same amount for zoo visitors use of village roads and emergency services.

When the zoo balked at that, noting that most visitors don't enter on village roads or use police services, the water rate increase was suggested, he said.

"This part sticks in our craw," Strahl said. "The village said we're a significant financial burden not paying for services. We had a very good relationship with the village up to that point but they have not justified the reason why they need this money."

Brookfield Zoo is operated by the Cook County Board, through the Forest Preserve District.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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