County Commission delays decision on whether to charge nonprofits to use fairgrounds

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

The Douglas County Commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

The Douglas County Commission agreed Wednesday to put off a decision on whether to start charging some nonprofits to use the county fairgrounds, citing confusion about what types of organizations the new language would affect.

Under the current fee structure, youth organizations and nonprofits with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status are allowed to use the fairgrounds for free. The proposed changes to the fee structure would still allow county nonprofit youth groups free use of the fairgrounds, said Jill Jolicoeur, assistant to the county administrator. However, nonprofits with state 501(c)(3) certification would be asked to rent the grounds or facilities at a discounted rate of 50 percent from the standard charge. Nonprofits would, however, be allowed to apply for a fee waiver.

Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said she fielded a number of calls in recent days from residents concerned about the proposal to start charging nonprofits for the use of fairgrounds facilities.

Max Miller, president of the Lawrence Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization reserves a fairgrounds building twice a year for hunting safety classes. Although most of the people taking the class are minors, he said his organization would have to apply for the fee waiver because adults seeking their first hunting license also are required to complete the class. He added that his organization has a different tax-exempt status than 501(c)(3).

There was also the question of how Douglas County K-State Extension, an agricultural organization, would fit into the new structure.

The new rate schedule lists Extension, which has its headquarters at the fairgrounds, as one of the agencies that can use fairgrounds facilities rent free. However, David Sparkes, county building and grounds maintenance director, said that, under the current rates, Extension is asked to pay a fee if using fairgrounds buildings during the evening and other high-demand times.

Sarah Plinsky, assistant county administrator, said staff would work on refining the language of the proposal to clarify exactly which organizations were affected. She added that she could look at raising fees for commercial users instead of making some nonprofit users pay.

In other business, the County Commission:

• Approved a contract that would make Plinsky interim county administrator after Craig Weinaug retires Dec. 14 from the county administrator position he has held for 26 years. Under the contract, Plinsky will be paid at a rate based on a $169,400 annual salary during her time as interim administrator. It also assures her return to her $126,400-a-year assistant county administrator position unless she is hired for the county’s top job.

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Assistant Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky will become the county’s interim leader after County Administrator Craig Weinaug retires Dec. 14. Plinsky has served as the assistant county administrator for eight years.

When asked by the Journal-World whether she was interested in applying for the permanent position, Plinsky would not say anything other than that she wanted to continue to serve the county in some capacity.

Thellman said the County Commission would decide how to proceed with a search for a new county administrator when Commissioner-elect Patrick Kelly takes office in January.

• Voted to enter into an agreement with DCCCA for the agency to provide strategic planning for the prevention of addiction, suicide and mental health crisis and to convene a opioid summit in the spring. DCCCA CEO Lori Alvarado said the Lawrence-based agency has done strategic planning for prevention in other jurisdictions in the state.

The cost of the services from DCCCA is not to exceed $180,000. Bob Tryanski, county director of behavioral health projects, said the county’s 2019 behavioral health allocation of $1.9 million would cover $14,000 of the cost. Revenue from the quarter-cent sales tax voters approved Nov. 6 for behavioral health initiatives will pay for the rest of the contract.


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