Declining revenues, donations reason behind misuse of bond money, zoo official says

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Declining revenues and a drop in donations are the reason the Jackson Zoological Park dipped into its bond proceeds to make payroll.

Recently, Jackson Zoological Park Executive Director Beth Poff sent a letter to the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration outlining why the zoo dipped into its bond funds to keep the zoo afloat.

The bonds were issued by the state and awarded to the zoo to make structural improvements. However, the dollars were instead used to cover operations.

In a two-page letter, Poff pointed to a decline in revenue brought about by “a significant decline in attendance, an usually rainy spring season, a decline in field trips and various other reasons.”

Since 2003, attendance at the park has dropped by nearly half, going from 185,000 that year to 100,100 last year, Poff told the Sun previously. 

The letter was hand-delivered to MFA Executive Director Laura Jackson on July 26.

In the note, Poff said the zoo had “every intention of restoring the funds once additional funds were received,” but understood that dipping into the debt service funds was a violation of the bond agreements.

“We understand that the use of these bond proceeds for operations is not in compliance with the memorandums of understanding we signed prior to the receipt of these funds. We ask for understanding in these difficult times and an opportunity to restore the funds,” she wrote.

Poff said the funds likely would be paid back after the zoo receives its bi-annual allocation from the city. The zoo is slated to receive more than $900,000 from Jackson this year. The funds are broken down and awarded to the zoo in the first and third quarters.

News of the letter has surfaced days after the Jackson Zoological Society board of directors began the process to oust Poff as executive director, and months after the society announced that it was looking to relocate the zoo to the Northside.

Last week, board’s executive committee voted to place Poff on temporary leave, until the entire board could vote on her future.

In the spring, the board voted to study moving the zoo to the golf course at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. The society voted in favor of the move, after a report released last year revealed that major donors would not support a capital campaign to fund improvements at the park's current location. 

The zoo is located at 2918 W. Capitol St., in West Jackson.

Society board members were slated to meet today, but the meeting was rescheduled for Thursday, August 9, at the Zoo Community Center. The meeting will begin at 11:30 and is open to the public.

Poff declined to comment.

DFA officials had not responded to a request for comment at press time.

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