Detroit voters agree to pay more tax to save arts institute

Voters in Detroit have given their approval to a special ten-year property tax plan that has saved an important art institution in the city from possible closure.
Detroit’s citizens have effectively agreed to pay more taxes to ensure that the Detroit Institution of Arts (DIA), which has one of the largest and important art collections in America, continues to be a part of the city.
The property tax, known in the US as millage, will cost residents who have, for example, property worth $150,000 (approximately £95,866), an extra $15 (£9.60) a year.
This will help generate $23 million (£14.7 million) for the institute every year, which helps meet the shortfall in state funding, with Michigan cutting its spending significantly over the last 20 years.
Financial problems have arose as a consequence of this, and without the generous levy, it was feared that the establishment would have to slash its education programmes and cut back on the number of exhibitions it would normally host.
Furthermore, DIA was adamant that without this funding boost, it would be inevitable that further jobs would go, a consequence of which would be a reduction in the number of days it would be open. Closure, it confirmed, would have been an unavoidable reality.
“We are thrilled that voters in the three counties have assured a bright future for the DIA by approving this millage proposal, and we deeply appreciate their support,” commented Graham W J Beal, director of the DIA.
“When we announced that we would seek the millage, we pledged that if it were to pass we would provide free admission to residents of all three counties. We are immediately following through on that pledge.”
The institute now has ten years to pay back its citizens, Mr Beal acknowledged, stating that it will do everything in its power to be financially independent and not reliant on taxpayers’ money.
Mr Beal and his colleagues are aware that there will be intense scrutiny of the way the institute develops over the next decade. It was, after all, a very close call, with the new tax winning by just 1,340 votes (out of a total of 125,200 cast). That margin equates to 50.5 per cent for and 49.5 per cent against.
Some of the criticisms against the levy are recession responsive, with residents unhappy to have to pay more taxes to fund an art institute. One such opponent, Robert Gosselin, an Oakland commissioner, voted against the proposal.
He told the Wall Street Journal that this kind of a tax was a luxury, adding “it’s not the role of government to provide a source of money for this type of thing”.
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