Mayor Jean Stothert wants to continue Omaha government’s longstanding support of the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium — to the tune of $30.6 million over a decade.

Under a new agreement, the city would give the nonprofit that runs the zoo $2.4 million in 2021, increasing 5.5 percent a year to $3.8 million in 2030.

The city’s contribution has increased roughly the same percentage each of the past few years; it’s set to give the zoo $2.1 million next year and $2.3 million in 2020.

Stothert said the money is well-spent, given what the zoo gives back to the city in economic activity and new visitors to Omaha.

“I think it’s definitely worth our investment to keep subsidizing the zoo,” she said.

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During a recent public hearing before the Omaha City Council, zoo officials touted the zoo’s economic impact, which according to a study was $228 million to the City of Omaha in 2017 when considering what visitors to the city spend on hotels, meals and other things connected to their trips to the zoo.

Jeremy Eddie, the zoo’s senior vice president of finance and administration and chief financial officer, said through a spokeswoman that private donations have long funded new construction of the zoo’s signature exhibits.

But ongoing costs to run the zoo fall to the operating budget. The city money goes toward that operating budget, which includes paying 322 full-time employees and up to 1,000 part-time employees and covering the cost of repairing and maintaining buildings, animal exhibits, pathways and exhibits.

“The city’s commitment will help ensure the expanded zoo facilities and exhibits can be maintained at a high level, allowing Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium to remain one of the world’s best zoos and continue to generate a strong economic impact for Omaha,” Eddie said.

The proposal before the City Council would amend a 1964 agreement that established the role of the Omaha Zoological Society, the nonprofit that operates and maintains the zoo, which was built on the city-owned Riverview Park. The city today still owns the land.

That original agreement called for the city to give the zoo $100,000 a year the first four years.

The society brought in $65.3 million in revenue last year, which included $23.9 million in capital contributions, money that’s to be used on new construction, according to Eddie and the federal 990 tax form filed by the Zoological Society. The revenue included sources like ticket sales and grants.

Eddie said the zoo’s 2018 operating budget was $44.7 million. The city money represents about 4.5 percent of the annual operating budget. The zoo also gets funding from Douglas County, which has varied between $200,000 and $300,000 and is to be used on new capital projects.

The rest of the operating budget is covered by the Omaha Zoo Foundation, which contributes 4 percent of the budget, and earned revenues, which include ticket sales, rides, memberships, food and beverage sales, and sales from the gift shop, events and education programs.

An annual zoo membership is $84 for an individual and $135 for a household. Daily summer admission is $21.95 for adults and $15.95 for kids. The fee is less during other times of the year.

Also helping to boost the zoo’s coffers: Accredited zoos, which include the ones in Omaha and Lincoln, get a sales tax break under which they can keep the money and use it to upgrade their facilities. The Nebraska Legislature passed that bill three years ago.

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The zoo reported $52.9 million in expenses last year.

Stothert said the zoological society’s board, chaired by philanthropist and retired businessman Walter Scott Jr., asked for a meeting last spring to talk about the new agreement. The board suggested the 5.5 percent annual increase in city funds. That’s based off the current agreement and is comparable, she said.

“I’m very comfortable with doing this,” she said.

The city will pay for it using keno funds, said City Finance Director Steve Curtiss. When people play keno in Omaha, the city gets a portion of the proceeds, and the money is earmarked for community-betterment efforts.

Stothert said the city may have to supplement its portion with general funds in the future, depending on how much revenue keno generates. Under its newest city budget, the city is expecting to bring in $7.5 million next year from keno.

During the council meeting this week, Councilwoman Aimee Melton acknowledged that the agreement calls for a “fairly large amount” of city money to go to the zoo. But she said she plans to support it, based on what the zoo provides the city.

The council is set to vote on the agreement Tuesday. It’s listed under the consent agenda, which is generally reserved for matters that are expected to generate little to no discussion.

The zoo said more than 2 million people visited the zoo in 2016 and 2017, and the portion of out-of-state visitors has grown to more than one-third.

But Dennis Pate, the zoo’s executive director and CEO, said the zoo’s impact goes beyond economic activity. Last year, he said, the zoo gave away 39,431 tickets worth more than $600,000 to people in need.