The Coffee County Historical Society, a local non-profit with offices in the Coffee County Courthouse, is concerned that a recent move to enforce rent on the facilities might force the group to close its doors.
“If the county goes through with this, we don’t know what’s going to happen to the historical society and the museum,” said Director Beverly Vetter.
“We figured it would be roughly $800 per month, and they want us to have liability insurance. That would be roughly $9,600 a year, not counting the insurance. And we bring in about $10,000 a year. We don’t have a single person on payroll. We write grants, but they are for specific things. I don’t think they would pay rent,” she said.
Vetter said that she found out about this Tuesday and that the first rent payment will be due Nov. 1.
Building budgets takes time and the group has assumed that revenue would be in its budget.
“We know (now) that it was voted on during the summer, but if we would have known we would have gone to the meeting and presented figures, telling them what we do,” she said.
Vetter said that membership dues are paid, but research is free to the public. The historical society archives a photo collection from the Doak estate, historic records and has a museum of historic exhibits. The society published its research on the history of the county.
“Francis, our treasurer, was a treasurer for the city school system, she does her job for free. She’s meticulous. Our books are in absolutely pristine order. We do all this for free because we love Coffee County,” Vetter said.
“There’s a chance if the county doesn’t relent on this we won’t be able to continue,” she said.
In June 2021, the commission passed an “amendment to the purchasing policies and procedures manual concerning the leasing of county office space.”
According to a letter from the county, the Purchasing Commission told the historical society TRANE’s contracted kilowatts usage audit concluded that after the installation of energy saving mechanisms, utility costs amounted to $1.11 per square foot. The county is charging the nonprofits only 55% of the actual rate or $.50 per square foot.
The letter from Coffee County Purchasing said that “the county has seen fit to ask every organization to help with … the ever increasing rise of electricity costs.”
The commission first considered additional rent for the Historical Society at the Nov. 12, 2019 full commission meeting.
Chair of the Purchasing Committee Margaret Cunningham said at that meeting, “It seems to me they (the Coffee County Historical Society) are ungrateful for the county letting them have so much space. Maybe we need to think about charging them some minimal charge so that they understand this is a special thing to be able to get the space. I think if they are not grateful, then maybe we need to think of something to make them appreciate that they have it.”
The Coffee County Historical Society operates out of the first floor of the courthouse.
Currently Judge Vanessa Jackson’s Circuit Court is held on the second floor. A ground level boardroom provides a handicap accessible courtroom as needed.
County Archivist and longtime CCHS member, Judy Phillips, thinks the society began using the courthouse about 1983.
The Historical Society has a letter from the Capital Outlay committee dated 2018 giving them permission to use the space for five years. The letter was signed by Mayor Gary Cordell.