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As Heritage Trust Fund ends, historical preservation groups look for alternate funding

History buffs and preservationists took a long last look at a much-beloved funding source last month, as the county prepared to end the Heritage Trust Fund grants because of changes made by the Kansas Legislature in mortgage filing fees.

The Johnson County Commission approved one last batch of projects — $248,000 for 11 projects from historical preservation groups all over the county — before the grant program ended. The loss of Heritage Trust Fund money will have a big impact on groups that have used it since 1991 for a wide range of projects, say those involved in preservation.

Florent Wagner, vice president of the Overland Park Historical Society, said the loss of the grants would be “an enormous hit.”

Tim Talbott, site manager of the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historical Site, concurred. “It has certainly been a very, very important grant for us,” he said. “It is far and away one of the largest grant awards for us each year for the last 11 or 12 years.”

The Mahaffie site, in fact, is among the top grant awardees since the trust fund’s grant review board took over administration in 2002. Mahaffie has received grants 11 times since 2002, for a total of $439,515.

Other big recipients since 2002 are the Shawnee Indian Mission, which received nine awards totaling $409,044; the Olathe Historical Society with about $174,000, and the Kansas Foundation for the Deaf, with awards totaling about $203,200.

All of that is in the past now, leaving preservation groups to scramble for alternatives to complete ongoing projects.

Money for the Heritage Trust Fund came from a fee charged to borrowers on their real estate deals. The county was required to send $100,000 of those revenues — which varied year to year — to the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund. In addition, $250,000 more was set aside for grants for various local projects. The rest went to fund the Johnson County Museum operating budget.

In its last session, the Kansas Legislature decided to phase out that mortgage registration fee, replacing it with a per-page document filing fee. County officials predicted a major decrease in revenue as a result, though the local state lawmakers disagreed.

That left a big question on how much the county can expect for historic preservation in the future from the fees. Because of that, the amount the county must send to the state trust fund is reduced to $30,000 and the grant program is no more.

There will still be some revenue, but it’s unclear how much. Operations at the county museum will not be drastically affected because the county will use a different mix of tax dollars to compensate for the potential loss, said museum director Mindi Love.

The loss of the grants will be more worrisome for local preservation groups like Overland Park’s. The Overland Park Historical Society hopes to create some exhibit space in a building in its old town area that is currently occupied by Traditions Furniture Store, Wagner said. The group was promised the building whenever the furniture store leaves, he said.

Overland Park got one of the last grants — $33,220 to help organize and professionally manage its collection and create a searchable database to track the items.

Mahaffie also got a grant of $50,000 to update and stabilize work on the exterior stonework of the icehouse and farmhouse that the city of Olathe did in the 1980s and ’90s. Although the grant money does not affect daily operations at Mahaffie, Talbott said, site officials will have to be careful about their maintenance priorities until other funds can be found.

“The longer you put off maintenance and restoration, the worse the problem gets,” Talbott said.

“This is a tremendously important grant for us and for a lot of others,” he said. “We will just have to take it a step at a time and see what happens.”

Thirteen groups put in applications asking for about $421,000 in grants last year. The review board and county commission approved $248,000 of that for projects that included:

▪ Olathe Historical Society: $41,200 for part of the cost to continue its award-winning film series on Olathe history. The movie will be about the history of the railroad in Johnson County and Olathe.

▪ Deaf Cultural Center: $11,350 for a consultant to develop a long-range plan of exhibits.

▪ Westwood Hills: $35,000 to provide part of the cost of rehabilitating historic stone bridges and 14 stone and brick entryway markers to the city.

▪ Shawnee Town 1929: $5,500 for part of the cost to create and design an online exhibit of funeral and undertaking artifacts.

▪ Johnson County Museum: $11,872 for part of the cost of improvements in lighting and to develop audio and interpretive tours at Lanesfield Historic Site.

▪ Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation: $42,227 to provide part of the cost of ongoing restoration of the West Building.

▪ Monticello Community Historical Society: $3,670 for part of the cost for signage at the Garrett House in Shawnee.

▪ Kansas City Trails Association: $4,960 to partly fund replacement of 75 signs marking historic trails.

▪ Gardner Historical Museum: $9,000 for insulation, landscaping and other improvements at the Bray House.