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Wayne County Communities Sue to Keep Tax Money Earmarked for Zoo, DIA

Detroit Zoo wants communities that diverted zoo funds need to return the money.

Nine Wayne County communities that capture a portion of the revenue from voter-approved millages intended to help fund the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Zoo are asking a judge to decide whether the practice is legal.

A lawsuit was filed Feb. 1 in Wayne County Circuit Court against Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz and two taxing authorities established to oversee the DIA and zoo millages. It was filed on behalf of Wyandotte, Belleville, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Northville, Plymouth Township, Romulus, Taylor and Van Buren Township.

The matter began when Wojtowicz told the communities they were not permitted to continue the practice.

"I remain convinced the voice of the voters should be heard and these taxes should benefit the zoo and the art institute,” he said in a written statement.

Wyandotte City Administrator Todd Drysdale said he’s just as convinced his interpretation of state law is correct.

“The law requires us to capture the money and send it to the local tax increment financing authority that it belongs to,” he said. “We’re following the law. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Communities in Michigan are permitted to establish specific development districts within their city limits. In Wyandotte’s case, there is a DDA, a TIFA (tax increment financing authority) and a Brownfield redevelopment area.

According to state law, increases in tax revenue within those districts can be captured by those districts to use locally, Drysdale said.

Patricia Mills Janeway, communications director at the Detroit Zoo, said officials there have consulted with their legal counsel as well.

"While we won’t comment on legal action, our position remains that voters approved a tax for a specific purpose – to support the Detroit Zoo," she said. "The communities that diverted zoo funds need to return the money, stop capturing funds intended for the zoo and honor the voting process."

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