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The Detroit Institute of Art’s (DIA) Board will ask voters to renew a tri-county millage on the March 10, 2020 ballot, two years before the 2012 10-year millage expires. The DIA previously claimed the initial millage would be a one-time tax.

The DIA Board announced the planned renewal in a Monday news release.

The regional Art Authorities of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties would each have to agree before voters decide on the ballot.

The Art Authorities were created in 2012 before Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy to ensure DIA’s art wouldn’t be sold off to pay the city’s creditors.

The 0.2 millage passed easily in 2012 in Wayne and Oakland County, but squeezed by in Macomb County with 50.5 percent of the vote.

“The millage renewal will allow the DIA to continue to offer free educational opportunities to students in our local schools, provide free professional development to more than 1,500 teachers annually, and offer the region access to unique history and culture that can’t be found on TV, online or in books,” the press release stated.

If renewed, the millage would support the following programs:

  • Free field trips and free transportation to over 62,000 students from more than 700 schools in the tri-county area annually
  • Free weekly programs for seniors, including free bus transportation for groups
  • Unlimited free general admission for all tri-county residents
  • Increasing the museum's weekly operating schedule by opening on Tuesdays and adding an extra hour to the daily schedule for the arrival of school groups
  • Forming partnerships with over 900 nonprofit groups in the tri-county area

Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet told The Center Square the 2012 millage’s rationale was that the 10-year property tax would augment the DIA’s endowment so it could survive off the investment post-expiration.

Drolet said DIA is attempting to place the millage on the March ballot because Democrats are expected to flood the March presidential primary polls, while Republicans may stay home since President Donald Trump faces few competitors in the GOP.

The DIA originally promised to let the millage expire, Drolet said. If the millage fails in March, the DIA would still have two years to try again.

Drolet said the decision didn’t make financial sense when he divided the number of “free” admissions by the amount of money Macomb residents paid in property taxes.

“It turns out that it’s about $64 to $16, depending on the year, per museum visitor that it’s costing Macomb County,” Drolet said, adding that a general admission ticket costs $15.

“[DIA] is cost-free for Macomb residents, but in reality, [the art museum is] being subsidized to the tune of four-times the ticket price in order to give away that admission,” Drolet said, adding that Macomb County would be better off canceling the property tax and paying the government directly, which would cost the county residents a quarter of the current cost.

Drolet said he enjoys visiting the DIA, but other residents don’t want to foot the cost.

“It’s not people who don’t care about art, or are who selfish, or are Cretans, like they are often characterized,” Drolet said. “It’s people who are really trying to figure out how to get through from paycheck to paycheck.”

Drolet said this millage is for a nonessential service, unlike police and fire departments, or roads.

“And when a majority tells the minority that they should pay for the art that the majority likes, I think it’s mean,” Drolet said. “It’s uncaring. They are the ones who are selfish.”

Drolet pointed out there aren’t government subsidies for attractions such as music festivals or the Detroit Zoo.

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