Mount Clemens — The Macomb Art Institute Authority voted unanimously Tuesday to place the Detroit Institute of Arts’ 10-year renewal millage before voters in March, joining boards in Wayne and Oakland counties. 

The museum sparked controversy last month by announcing plans to ask voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to renew the 0.2-mill tax, despite pledging in 2012 not to do so.

The current tax won't lapse until 2022, but the museum, which has an annual operating budget of $38 million, has decided to act during a presidential primary, rather than wait for an off-year ballot when its prospects might be dimmer.

The millage costs the owner of a house valued at $150,000 roughly $15 a year.

Macomb art authority members called the decision to back the renewal measure a way to extend an arrangement that benefits residents.

"We know how important it is to Macomb County, especially for our youth," Rodney Tolbert said after the vote.

Like Macomb, the Wayne and Oakland art authorities also approved the March ballot measure unanimously, on Nov. 13 and Nov. 21, respectively. The county arts authorities had until Dec. 17 to approve the renewal in order to put it before voters next spring.

The DIA has faced criticism over the timing of the millage renewal, with opponents arguing that a major statewide election in a presidential year will pull out more voters than an off-year election, likely favoring millage supporters. 

Oakland Art Institute Authority Chairman Thomas Guastello said his members didn’t see that as a problem. 

“That hasn’t been a big issue with us,” he said. “We understand museum planning is a multi-year affair, so it’s very helpful, as with the zoo, to know ahead of time whether they’re going to have the funding to go forward.”

In 2012, voters in Oakland and Wayne counties passed the millage with more than 60% in favor. Guastello, who’s also a DIA board member, said he doesn’t see any drop in support. 

“Every day I go out wearing an ‘I Love the DIA’ button,” he said, “and people are always coming up to say, ‘So do I!’ We view ourselves as good partners with the DIA, and they’re wonderful to us and provide a bevy of services.”

Wayne Art Institute Authority Chairwoman Bettye Misuraca agreed, saying, “Just from my perspective, the museum’s done a lot for Wayne County and the whole area. I think the DIA has lifted the image of Detroit 101%. I hear that from a lot of different people.” 

As for the March ballot, Misuraca anticipates that Wayne County voters will approve it. “I haven’t found one person who said they wouldn’t vote for it again,” she said.

In 2012, DIA officials told voters and the editorial board of The Detroit News that the millage, which last year yielded about $26 million, would permit them to pour all fundraising into the museum's unrestricted endowment, so that after 2022 public support would no longer be necessary.

In 2012, the endowment was about $91 million. Today it's reached $232 million, still short of the $300 million the museum said at the time would be necessary to yield what the millage does. Today, DIA leaders estimate that $600 million would be required to keep the museum functioning at its present level. 

In exchange for the millage, the museum waives admission for Wayne, Macomb and Oakland residents, who also get reduced rates for ticketed special exhibitions like the "Van Gogh in America" show opening next June.

“The relationships we have built with the three counties have transformed the DIA into an outward-facing institution, highly engaged in our communities," DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons said in a statement Tuesday. "Today, we are a museum that goes beyond the walls of our building to serve the community and to function as a resource for its residents and we are very proud of it." 

Read or Share this story: