A five-member panel created by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, May 17 will be tasked with drafting ballot language to go before voters in the Aug. 7 primary election for a measure to help shore up the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) budget.
In a divided vote in which seven Republicans joined all eight board Democrats, the county Board of Commissioners voted 15-9 to create the Oakland County Art Institute Authority, which has until Tuesday, May 29 to develop and submit ballot language for a 0.2-mill, 10-year tax being proposed in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties.
But what’s different among the three counties — at least so far — is a memorandum of understanding between Oakland County and the 127-year-old museum located on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
“It’s an incredible (agreement) that was made,” said Commissioner Marcia Gershenson (D-West Bloomfield).
Commissioner David Woodward (D-Royal Oak), who Gershenson said “lead the effort,” said the informal deal calls for reaffirming free DIA admission for Oakland County residents; securing transportation funding for more than 500 county classrooms to visit the DIA; helping ensure that transportation barriers for the county’s senior citizens to patronize the DIA are eliminated; having the DIA working with the Oakland Intermediate School District to “develop curriculum for targeted age groups” and “bring cultural arts education into schools;” and securing funding for bringing “specific DIA programming out to Oakland County communities.”
“The new investment (should the millage pass is) to not only support the DIA from a structural sense, but it’s going to result in measurable increased Oakland County programming and increasing access (to the DIA) for students,” Woodward said.
Commissioner Phil Weipert (R-Walled Lake, Wixom) was one of the seven Republicans who joined with Democrats in supporting the placement of the levy on the August ballot.
“I was happy with it going on either the August or November (ballots),” he said. “I just wish more people would vote in August.”
The issue is not without its detractors, however. Commissioner Jim Runestad (R-White Lake, Waterford) is one of them, citing concerns about the salaries of the DIA’s brass.
“It’s $400,000 for the DIA director,” he said. “The president (of the United States) doesn’t even get that much money. There certainly could be some trimming back.”
He also said that defined pension plans for current DIA employees need to be axed as an effort to scale back costs before any tax proposal should be approved.
“If necessary, they have a warehouse full of art that’s not on exhibit,” he said. “They have to sell some of the stuff that’s not being exhibited. The people in this area feel they are being over-taxed.”
DIA Spokeswoman Pamela Marcil said that, if passed in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties, the proposed millage that would first be collected with the winter tax bills would generate roughly $23 million for the museum annually, with approximately $10 million of that coming from Oakland County taxpayers.
“We have an operating gap every year,” Marcil said. “We have to raise $10 to $12 million a year just to balance our budget.”
Marcil provided a spreadsheet that indicates that DIA Executive Director Graham W.J. Beal’s base salary of $380,000 between 2009 and 2012 is only the 16th highest out of major art museums in the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City ($1.32 million), the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston ($940,000) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City ($930,000).
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, which is generally equal to half the property’s market value. A 0.2-mill levy would cost the owner of a property in the county with a taxable value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value) $20 a year.