Johnson County Partners in Preservation
The loss of only one penny will have a tremendous impact on the non-profit Johnson County heritage groups beginning with next year’s County budget. That one penny came from a 26 cents per $100 fee on mortgages in Johnson County. Imagine the consternation among Johnson County Heritage groups and our Johnson County Commission when the elimination of that fee, a highly regarded and longstanding revenue source, was attached to a piece of legislation and quickly passed in December 2014 by the Kansas State Legislature without regard to unintended consequences.
Never knew about any of this? That’s not surprising. A small fee of 25 cents per $100 of mortgages filed had been legislated by the state in 1925 to protect a developing mortgage industry against defaults. In 1991, 1 cent was added to the mortgage fee for the purpose of funding the Kansas State Heritage Trust Fund. All funds collected more than $100,000 went to into a Johnson County Heritage Trust Fund (JCHTF) where it was accumulated and carefully administered and distributed by the county commission. Since 2002, an estimated $2.9 million were awarded through the JCHTF. These grant funds have been applied to 126 countywide preservation projects, providing support to 35 different organizations, both municipal and registered 501(c)(3).
Examples of grants approved for special projects ranged from filming by the Overland Park Historical Society of the DVD,”Rails To Suburbia,” the story of the Strang Line Interurban and Overland Park, to several DVDs created by the Olathe Historical Society that have been the recipient of 12 Emmy awards. There were grants to refurbish and add to the trails markers in Johnson County and many more projects that you may have seen or visited but did not know how they were funded.
As a matter of public record, recipients of these grants from 2002-2015 include, but are not limited to, the Historic Mahaffie Stage Coach stop and farm, Johnson County Community College, the Johnson County Museum, the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation, the Kansas City Area Historic Trails Association, the Gardner Historical Museum, Shawnee Town 1929, the Deaf Cultural Center Foundation, the Monticello Community Historic Society,the Overland Park Historical Society, the Olathe Historical Society, and the Mid-America Nazarene Library. These organizations have used grants from this fund for many special projects which have added to the cultural experience, education, and enjoyment for both residents and visitors to Johnson County. In addition, and also as a matter of public record, Johnson County municipalities of Lenexa, Mission, Westwood Hills, De Soto, and Olathe benefited from the JCHTF, including the Johnson County Library system, the Deanna Rose Farmstead and the highly valued Johnson County AIMS mapping project.
Those grants, when added to the efforts of dedicated volunteers in these organizations, did some amazing things benefiting the very residents and businesses whose mortgages helped it grow. New residents come and businesses thrive in Johnson County, not just because of the lure of our excellent schools and well administered municipalities, but also due to the cultural advantages available here. Thank you to all who helped pay for some of those advantages through the years by their mortgage fees. It is no more, thanks to some very big real estate investors who lobbied the Kansas Legislature in 2014 for the fees to end in that form. Large real estate investors had to pay the mortgage fee for the big shopping centers they were building and they may not have realized, or perhaps even cared about the result of the fee elimination. For years it had been labeled a tax by the legislature, thus misrepresenting the intended original purpose of the fee.
The heritage groups mentioned above formed a coalition last December, Partners in Preservation, to inform the public of the problem and to come up with alternative funding. We will continue to operate our organizations, but with limited and shrinking resources, limited public access, significantly reduced educational programming, and with limited funds for unforeseen, out-of-budget expenses. We will survive but it will hurt. You can visit our Facebook page, Johnson County Preservation Partners, to leave your comments and ideas.
The Shawnee Indian Mission (SIM) Foundation has been notified that due to continual state budget cuts, their budget will be cut more than 50 percent and the hours of operation cut to two days a week.  The SIM State Historic Site will be closed from Nov. 1 until April 1. As an example, previously SIM has benefited from more than $450,000 awarded through the JCHTF. They are devastated by the development caused by the state, and cannot raise funds fast enough to stop the bleeding. Bloody Kansas.
This mortgage fee change will not only affect non-profit heritage groups, but the loss to Johnson County’s general fund over the next five years is estimated to be as much as $45 million. Some of that fund supports the Johnson County Library and Johnson County Museum. It will take the support of the entire Johnson County community, both public and private sectors, to come together to secure a solution to preserve the legacy and heritage that is Johnson County.
Those who passed this legislation had little regard of the impact to our Johnson County government and the many historical organizations in our county that preserve our past for present and future generations.