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Oakland County to Detroit: Sell DIA art, lose regional millage


Oakland County is looking to protect itself from the potential fallout of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Specifically, the county wants to make sure a multi-county millage for the Detroit Institute of Artsdoesn’t fall into city creditors’ hands.

Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties passed the special DIA millage—worth about $23 million annually--last year.

But Detroit has since filed for bankruptcy, and the DIA’s assets could potentially be sold off to appease the city’s creditors.

So Oakland County officials have threatened to revoke its portion of the millage if the DIA’s assets are diminished, or if any of that millage money ends up going to pay off the city’s debts.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says that would “be a major breach of the public trust.”

“That’s not what we passed a tax on,” Patterson says. “We willingly imposed a tax on ourselves in the suburbs to support a regional asset called the DIA and its art collection. You begin to sell off that art collection, then why did we tax ourselves?”

Though a city can’t be forced to sell assets in Chapter 9 bankruptcy, Detroit’s creditors—including bondholders and pensioners—are looking to squeeze whatever they can from the city. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr has brought in New York –based auction house Christie’s appraise the DIA’s collection.

Patterson admits this kicks the political pressure on those decision-makers up a notch, too.

“[We’re] Letting them know, don’t turn this collection because it’s not yours,” Patterson says. “If you start raffling it off or selling it, there will be consequences.”

Patterson says if Oakland moves ahead with this plan, the other counties will probably follow suit. The Oakland County Art Authority will consider a resolution to formalize the threat at a meeting next week.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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