The Land Conservancy faces tough road ahead

Non-profit looks at ‘bold and innovative’ ways to move forward at Nov. 3 annual general meeting

Supporters of The Land Conservancy are holding their breath to see how the B.C. non-profit will weather the worst financial crisis it has faced in its 15-year history.

TLC, which owns and manages 300 protected properties worth $32 million across the province – including Sooke Potholes and Madrona Farm in Saanich – is currently undergoing massive restructuring after its bank accounts were temporarily frozen by Canada Revenue Agency last month for unpaid taxes.

The federal agency has since released TLC’s accounts, allowing staff to be paid and freeing up $23,000 for an immediate tax payment.

It now faces the difficult task of rebuilding trust with its 8,000 members while trying to woo more, and must navigate its way through a short-term debt repayment plan with minimal revenue options.

“We have faced difficult financial situations before, but the current economic situation demands we take an innovative and bold look at the way we do everything,” said Al Craighead, TLC board chair, and Kathleen Sheppard, acting executive director, in a joint statement.

Sheppard took over when founder Bill Turner retired in June.

The organization’s financial problems were apparent as far back as 2009, when internal disagreements boiled into the public sphere.

Internal critics at the time said Turner had been too focused on acquiring properties without due concern for stretching TLC finances too thin.

Proponents of Turner cited the necessity to respond quickly to new opportunities, while Craighead and Sheppard said TLC’s acquisitions have saved “properties of natural, cultural and agricultural significance when others said it was impossible.”

Board member Briony Penn said in a letter to members that TLC’s board of directors is working on a sustainability plan that is expected to be revealed at the non-profit’s annual general meeting Nov. 3.

Immediate measures include reducing of staff from 60 to 12, moving to donated office space and paying down capped short-term debt.

TLC’s Long-term initiatives will build on core membership to generate steady revenue, and look at alternative management options for its properties.

An action plan will be agreed upon in November and finalized before the 2013 annual meeting, said Craighead and Sheppard.

TLC’s own bylaws, standards of practices and charity legislation prevent it from selling its conservation properties to generate revenue, although in a worst case scenario, properties could be transferred to other charitable organizations with a similar mandate, Penn said.

TLC is expecting two significant government grants before the end of the calendar year as well, she said.

Across the province, TLC is involved with 300 projects totaling about 48,500 hectares.

Created in 1997, TLC is a non-profit charitable land trust that works throughout the province protecting habitat for plants, animals and natural communities as well as properties with historical, cultural, scientific or recreational values.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

– with files from Nanaimo News Bulletin

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