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Fee increase proposed to help historic courthouses, rural museums

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ An increase in a fee paid by those buying property could help Oklahoma's historic courthouses and rural museums.

House Bill 1597 by Rep. Clay Pope would increase the documentary stamp tax from 75 cents to 85 cents for each $500. The documentary tax is paid when property is sold.

``What this means in layman's terms is that a person filing a deed on a $50,000 home would pay an additional $10 to the county clerk,'' Pope, D-Loyal, said. ``That money would be used to help save the courthouse where the fee is paid.''

Ten percent of revenues from the first 65 cents of the tax would be split between two new funds to help restore and maintain historic sites and museums and courthouses.

Funding from the increase would help preserve Oklahoma's rural heritage, Pope said in a story from the Tulsa World's Capitol bureau.

Pope estimates that the increase, which would require a vote of the people, would bring in $1.8 million for the two new funds.

The Historic County Courthouse Investment Program and the Affiliated Historic Sites and Museums Program would be administered by the Oklahoma Historical Society's board of directors.

Funding from both programs would be provided through an application process.

Only courthouses listed on the National Register of Historic Places would qualify. Fifty-one Oklahoma county courthouses meet this requirement and another half-dozen could be eligible.

``Many were built at the turn of the century or during the Great Depression through the public relief programs of the federal government,'' said historical society Director Bob Blackburn.

``With few exceptions, these public buildings are suffering from age and poor attempts at adaptive reuse. With this new revenue we will help county officials preserve these buildings and keep them at the center of life in rural Oklahoma.''

Many of Oklahoma's courthouses were built when farming and oil were doing well, and officials wanted them to reflect that prosperity, he said.

Today, the condition of many courthouses is reaching the crisis point, Blackburn said.

The revenue will keep the structures open and help the agency build partnerships with tribes, local historic societies and other nonprofit groups for long-term development, he said.

A local government or nonprofit group could receive funding through the museum program to operate sites and museums that can no longer be supported by appropriations to the historical society.

These affiliate sites would remain property of the state, which would remain responsible for buildings and mechanical systems.

``Rural heritage is so important to Oklahoma,'' said Blackburn. ``If cities are going to prosper, rural areas have to prosper.''

The Pope bill was approved by the subcommittee on natural resources and regulatory services of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. It now goes to the parent committee for consideration before facing the full House.
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