DIA millage passes in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb counties

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The renewal millage for the Detroit Institute of Art passed in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties Tuesday, meaning the museum will continue to receive about $25 million a year from Metro Detroit taxpayers.

With all precincts reporting in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties the 0.2-mill, 10-year tax was approved. About three-fourths of voters in Wayne and Oakland voted in favor, while in Macomb, the issue received approval from about 62% of voters.

DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons thanked Metro Detroiters for supporting the tax.

"The DIA millage renewal will ensure the museum can continue offering free field trips and free transportation to (80,000) students from local schools each year and free programming for local seniors," Salort-Pons told The Detroit News Tuesday night. "The millage also ensures free access to the DIA’s unique collection of art, culture and history for Macomb, Oakland and Wayne County residents."

Salort-Pons, director since 2015, said without renewal, the DIA would have to revert to its pre-2012 operating model and charge admission to tri-county residents without offering special programs.

The millage renewal will go into effect when the current millage expires in two years. DIA officials said the tax will cost $15 a year for a home valued at $150,000.

"The DIA is a true cultural treasure and we thank the voters of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties for renewing their support for this renowned institution that gives one-of-a-kind access to art, culture and history," said Eugene A. Gargaro, DIA board chair. "We also want to thank our amazing team of volunteers and supporters who made phone calls, did mailings, put up lawn signs, and worked tirelessly to spread the message of why the DIA is part of what makes our community a great place to live, work and raise a family."

Leon Drolet, a Macomb County commissioner who publicly opposed the renewal, told The News on Tuesday night he was not surprised the tax renewal passed.

“The results are as planned,” he said. “The DIA selected their voters and chose an election where they will have a substantial Democrat and lower Republican turnout,” he said. “I wish there was a law that prevents tax issues to be put on presidential primary ballots. It allows taxing authorities to gain the system.”

The museum won approval of the 10-year tax in all three counties eight years ago and said it expected to be self-sufficient afterward. But DIA officials stirred controversy by deciding late last year to seek renewal of the tax — two years before it expires.

Last year, the levy provided the museum with $25.2 million out of its $38 million operating budget.

Students from Royal Oak High School listen to Detroit Institute of Arts docent Christian Black (center) speaking of artist Charles McGee and his work titled 'Noah's Ark: Genesis' in Kresge Hall recently. The DIA is seeking a 0.2-mill increase in the March 10, 2020 election.

Under service agreements, residents in the three counties get free admission to the museum, the DIA funds special Thursday programs for senior citizens, and will send a bus — at the museum’s cost — to pick up any group numbering 20 or more, including schoolchildren.

Supporters of the millage point to those benefits, while opponents say the DIA should keep its word and operate without continuing to tax Metro Detroiters.

The 2012 millage was sold to voters on the grounds that public support would enable the museum to apply its fundraising skills to bulking up its operating endowment, after which public support wouldn’t be necessary.

That effort fell short. In 2012, the endowment stood at about $90 million. Today it’s close to $240 million, but still nowhere near big enough to earn the $25.2 million the millage supplies.

Reflecting some of the umbrage among tax opponents, in December a Macomb legislator introduced a bill in the Michigan House to let local governments opt-out of the tax. And just last month, two lawsuits were filed against the museum alleging violations of Michigan’s open-meetings law and the Freedom of Information Act.

Overall, the millage costs Macomb, the least-populous of the three counties, about $6 million annually. Wayne County puts in $8 million, and Oakland about $11 million.

Should the measure pass the two larger counties but fail in Macomb, the DIA would still get close to $20 million a year. But Macomb County’s legislation requires passage in all three counties before the millage can take effect there.

Ali Abdelsaheb, 20, waited 45 minutes to register and cast his vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders and the DIA Tuesday at the Dearborn City Hall.

Ali Abdelsaheb from Dearborn, who waited 45 minutes to register and vote for the first time Tuesday, said it was important to vote yes on the renewal.

“Simply, it’ll help the community keep one of our gems up to date,” said Abdelsaheb, 20.

Daniel and Kim Gross of Warren both voted no on the DIA millage.

“I haven’t used it since I was in the third grade,” Daniel Gross said with a laugh.

Kim Gross said although she voted against the millage, “I think it’s important, supporting things like that. You have to come up with the money some way. But weren’t they on the ballot last year or the year before and it passed?”

The Bouchers, self-described ‘Trumpsters’ who live in Bloomfield Township, did not agree on the DIA question.

“I grew up in Detroit and love the DIA, I want to see it prosper,” said Jeanne Boucher, of Bloomfield Township. “But I voted ‘No.’

“It was supposed to be a one-time tax,” she said. “But now they are coming back two years before it even expires to renew it. It seems that is the way with any of these millages or taxes. Once they get something in, it’s renew, renew, renew.”

Jim Boucher, her husband, voted for the DIA renewal saying, “I think it’s a fine institution and I have a friend who is helping to run it. I believe it needs all of our support.”


Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Staff Writers Leonard N. Fleming and Mike Martindale contributed.