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Proposal to turn jail into a museum

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By Robin Bass

As the county seeks to utilize their limited resources as efficiently as possible, a local historical group is hoping to convince fiscal court to turn one of those resources into a museum.

For the past several months, the old jail house sitting behind the county courthouse has been vacant. Once used as a local craft store by the Spencer County Gourd Society, the jail is now being considered by magistrates as a location to safely store the county’s voting machines.

“Seeing the jail used as only a warehouse seems to be a misuse of this historic structure,” said John Lilly, of the Spencer County Historical and Geneological Society.

His group has pledged their support to help organize and operate a museum in the jail. Plans are to solicit residents to help fill the space with photographs and artifacts that tell the story of Taylorsville and Spencer County. Lilly said that the museum could also stand as a starting point for historical walking tours.

“I believe it would not only add to the tourist base, but a museum could help create an identity. The more people are exposed to their history, the more they can take pride in their community,” said Lilly.

After fiscal court met Monday afternoon, magistrates took a field trip to survey the amount of space available in the old jail. The roughly 20 x 30 concrete building consists of a few small cells that were last used in the 1980s to house prisoners.

David Jenkins, county judge executive, said that the matter boils down to proper use of space. In addition to storing voting machines, the county is also looking for office space for the county surveyor and possibly the commonwealth attorney.

“What we don’t want to do is act hastily and still have a space issue,” said Jenkins.

Lilly said that the success of a jail museum would depend on community interest and the number of people who would volunteer. Initial plans are to have the museum open at least one day a week during peak tourism season, available for school tours and open during major community festivals.

“We can’t do it by ourselves, but we can get it started,” said Lilly. “The museum would be something for the community, not the historical society. If there’s no interest in the community, then there’s really no reason to pursue.”

Fiscal court made no decisions about the future use of the jail during Monday’s meeting.

Magistrates also voted unanimously to table any decisions about a proposed drug-testing policy for county employees after a lengthy discussion.

Magistrate Bill Drury reported that a local committee formed to review the policy recommended all part-time and full-time employees should be subject to a random drug test.

Magistrate John Riley questioned the constitutionality of a blanket testing policy.

“What are we trying to accomplish here,” said Riley. “There used to be something called probable cause. I’m uncomfortable with random testing. I just don’t see any need to expand this.”

David Jenkins, county judge executive, said that the purpose wasn’t to infringe on anyone’s rights, but to protect the county from liability. His recommendations to the court were to have drug testing for new hires and for employees involved in an accident while driving a county vehicle.

The topic of creating a random drug-testing policy was tabled until the next meeting.

In other fiscal court news:

* The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, under the direction of Governor Steve Beshear, made a one-time emergency payment to Spencer County in the amount of $43,610 to help the county cope with a previous budgetary reduction of $63,330. The funds are to be used on county road and bridge needs.

* Bids for renovations to the county’s building on Main Cross were accepted. Gary Kehne submitted the only bid of $17,982.80 to replace the exterior metal stairs. Kehne also had the lowest bid of for $13,299 to remodel the second floor of the building. No motions were made to proceed with the renovation project.

* Fiscal court approved the purchase of meat, potatoes and fruit for the Christmas food baskets. Last year, about 150 baskets were delivered to needy families.

Magistrates Hobert Judd and Riley voted no.

Judd said while he felt it was a worthy cause and one that he would contribute to himself, he didn’t not think it was an appropriate way to spend taxpayers’ money.