The following reflects the opinion of The Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board.
The people of Kent County have an opportunity to make an investment that will pay cultural, educational, economic, and recreational dividends.
Saying yes to the millage Nov. 8 to provide a stable source of funding for the Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo recognizes that strengthening these cultural assets elevates the quality of life, improves this community’s ability to attract economic activity, and bolsters a climate of innovation.
The museum is a regional treasure, housing one of the most comprehensive art collections with more than 250,000 artifacts that tell the rich history of this community. The zoo, already providing an interest range of exhibits, is primed to become an even greater asset with its exciting master plan.
The .44 mill property tax levy, which expires in 2025, costs the owner of a $170,000 home $37.40 per year, or about $3 per month. The tax would generate about $8.9 million, after tax increment authorities capture their portion, for the institutions to split equally.
The funding will allow the museum and zoo to plan long-term, make upgrades and strengthen their ability to court donors. Donors can be engaged not simply to help pay bills, but to help take the institutions to the next level, delivering the unique experiences craved in a digital age through programming and hands-on, interactive exhibits.
Both institutions are municipally owned but have seen their funding decrease substantially from the city and county with demands for essential services and dwindling state revenue.
The city now provides $400,000 to the museum which has a budget of $7.6 million. The zoo has a $10 million budget and the county contributes $2.6 million but drops to $2 million in 2020.
West Michigan’s generous philanthropic and business communities have stepped up for years but these assets need sustainable funding for their survival and vitality.
Raising the admission is not a reasonable option for institutions that are educational at their core, if they want to remain accessible to all families. Combined they serve 75,000 students countywide each year. Despite strained budgets, both provide free opportunities, including free days for the museum and free travel zoo programs.
In return for the tax, the museum would offer free admission to Kent County children age 17 and younger, adults would get discounted $5 admission, seniors $3, and parking would be free. It currently costs a household with two adults and two children $32 for general admission. The zoo would offer discounted admission for seniors and school groups could get in free.
No one is arguing that these institutions are essential services nor ignoring the sacrifices voters have made with prior taxes such as for veterans and seniors. The museum and zoo are amenities that add to the appeal of the area and are capable of being greater economic drivers with stable funding.
Vibrant cultural attractions like the Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo are important to the livability and economic competitiveness of communities.
A yes vote is an investment in the future and signals an understanding of the cultural, economic and social value of the institutions.