Anti-tax activist Leon Drolet is calling the tax supporting the Detroit Institute of Arts a ripoff for Macomb County because he believes it treats museum visitors outside of the tri-county area more favorably.
Drolet, a Macomb County commissioner, argues that the tax costs the average household far more than the $12.50 admission for DIA visitors from the surrounding counties, such as Livingston, St. Clair and Monroe, where the tri-county tax is not levied.
“The DIA has been far more successful at fleecing taxpayers than they are at attracting visitors to the museum. The saddest part is that Macomb citizens pay an outrageous amount more per visit than citizens outside the tri-county region,” said the Macomb Township Republican.
Drolet’s remarks came at DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons gave a presentation to the Macomb County Board of Commissioners on Thursday that indicated the renowned museum had 46,810 Macomb visitors in 2016. Admission to the DIA is free for tri-county residents – in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne.
But Drolet said the modest number of Macomb admissions, compared to the $5 million that the tax generates in the county, works out to $106 per visitor. He then compares that amount to the $12.50 cost per adult for the out-county areas (and all the rest of the state) and concludes that Macomb visitors pay more than eight times as much as those who live outside the tax district.
Of course, the numbers are more nuanced than they appear. Businesses generate a substantial amount of the $5 million in annual tax revenues. And the average household, typically a family of three, pays between $10 and $20 a year in property taxes for the DIA, depending on the value of their home.
A family – a couple and a child ($6 admission) – saves $31 by receiving free admission. That’s a net gain.
The regional tax was widely approved by voters in August 2012 after the museum became caught up in the financial straits brought on by the city of Detroit bankruptcy, which put the DIA’s future in jeopardy.
Salort-Pons, who began his tenure as DIA director in October 2015, is apparently making the rounds, giving a power point presentation to officials in the tri-county region. The numbers for Oakland and Wayne have not yet been publicized.
Beyond complimentary admission, DIA officials say the suburban counties benefit from the tax in several ways: thousands of kids travel to the DIA each year for school field trips, with the museum paying for bus transportation; guided tours of the museum are provided to seniors, again with free transportation; collaborations are established with local arts groups; and the “Inside-Out” program offers displays of art reproductions in public places across the three counties.
The bottom line is that critics object to the tax because the vast majority of county residents do not visit the DIA in any given year. The same argument is made to oppose the millages levied for the Detroit zoo, the suburban bus system and local services such as parks and recreation. All are services subsidized by the taxpayers. And all are levies approved by the voters.
Photo: Trish P./Flickr