County gives up control of old courthouse

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Marion County Historical Society awarded control over the building

By Stephen Lega

When the Marion County Judicial Center opened in the fall of 2011, the old Marion County Courthouse sat vacant until the Marion County Historical Society moved into the top floor in July of 2012.
The historical society opened the Marion County Heritage Center inside the old courthouse last September, although the grand opening took place this past February.
Thursday, the historical society members returned to the Marion County Fiscal Court seeking control over the entire building.
In the end, the court voted 4-0 in favor of changing their agreement to do just that, at least for the remainder of the historical society’s two-year contract with the court. That agreement took effect in July of 2012.
Before the vote, historical society president Mike Cecil and treasurer Mary Kay Clements addressed the court. Cecil opened by thanking the court for all its support during the past year. He said it was daunting when he walked into the building for the first time last July, but since then things have gone better than the historical society could have expected.
“The ideas came so quickly that we couldn’t process them,” Cecil said.
Clements recounted much of what has happened. After the building was cleaned up, the historical society has opened the world’s only Turtleman exhibit, and it houses Don Johnson’s collection of J.W. Pepper instruments. The heritage center has also hosted two rotating exhibits so far, and it served as the packet pick-up point for the recent Color in Motion 5K.
The center also has a gift shop with a unique Turtleman t-shirt and a variety of items made by Marion County artists. Since it opened, the center has attracted visitors from across North America and even as far away as Australia and Germany.
“They are spending money every time they come in here,” Clements said. “That benefits all of us.”
Clements added that the historical society would like to give an entire floor to the Turtleman exhibit and expand its space for Johnson’s musical instrument collection.
“We’re just talking about the tip of the iceburg … this can become, I believe, a destination point,” Cecil said.
He added that they would like to add exhibits to honor local veterans, the bourbon industry and possibly to recognize Marion County’s Eddie Miles, who is considered one of the world’s premier Elvis impersonators.
Magistrate Steve Masterson said he’s walked through the heritage center, and he was impressed.
“I was amazed at what you’ve done,” he said.
He also asked if they had approached the City of Lebanon for assistance.
Cecil said the city has helped, sending workers to assist with things like replacing light bulbs on the high ceilings on the third floor of the old courthouse and loaning them a pressure washer to clean pigeon droppings when they first moved into the building.
The magistrates also asked if they sought assistance from the tourism commission. Cecil said the commission has been moving away from sponsoring events, but he added that tourism gave them something more valuable than money when they brought them the idea to host the Turtleman exhibit.
While the court supported giving the historical society greater control over the use of the old courthouse, they postponed a decision on a longer-term agreement.
The historical society would like to enter into a five-year agreement with the court. This proposal would extend the existing proposal of the fiscal court paying the utilities on the building for three years with the understanding that the historical society and the court would agree on compensation during the final two years of the agreement.
Clements explained that local businesses have told them they would be willing to sponsor the center, but only if they knew they had a long-term agreement with the county to stay in that space.
Magistrate John Arthur Elder III said the court wasn’t ready to make a decision about a five-year agreement at last week’s meeting, but the court members were open to discussing that possibility in the future.
Budget approved
The court approved the second reading of the 2013-14 budget during its June 20 meeting. The total budget is projected to be more than $14.6 million.
This includes $6.692 million in the general fund and nearly $2.32 million in the road fund and $4.25 million in the detention center fund.
On a related matter, the court approved a 3 percent pay increase for county employees and voted to eliminate its short-term supplemental disability insurance.
In other business:
- The court approved its 2013-14 contract with the Marion County Board of Education regarding transportation for non-public school students. Under the contract, the court agreed to pay a maximum of $40,000 toward the transportation costs, which will be determined before the end of the next fiscal year.
- The court approved a request from the Marion County Fair Board for assistance with matching funds for a grant the fair board received. The grant was for $73,748 and the fair board needed to match 25 percent, or $24,582.67. The court agreed to contribute $22,000, and the fair board members agreed they could make up the difference.
- The court received a request for $4,500 from the Senior Companion Program, which provides assistance to senior citizens so they can remain in their own homes rather than going to a nursing home. The Senior Companions assist with things such as light housework, laundry, meal preparation and transportation. The court agreed to contribute the $3,968 it has remaining in its budget for Central Kentucky Community Action toward the program. Community action oversees the Senior Companion Program.
- The court renewed its workers compensation and all lines insurance with the Kentucky Association of Counties. The all lines insurance covers the county’s property and equipment. The renewal rates will be $167,602 for the all lines fund insurance and $255,882.63 for workman’s compensation. The county can save 1 percent (around $4,200) if it pays its premium before Aug. 1.
- Marion County EMS Director Robbie Turner reported that his department would need to replace a couple computers as a result of flooding on June 17, but the radio equipment was spared.
Marion County Emergency Management Director Hayden Johnson said he will be working from a home office temporarily as a result of the damage to his office (which is in the basement of the EMS building). He said his computer will need to be replaced.
- The court approved its annual $2,500 allocation for the 4-H Shooting Sports program. On a related matter, the magistrates discussed reviewing how much it allocates to the different youth sports programs, possibly based on the number of participants.
- Magistrate Larry Caldwell donated the balance of his community projects funds. He donated $200 to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and $275 to the Marion County Good Samaritans.