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TLC makes plans to pay its debts

Sep 01 2012
TLC treasurer Gary Holman says the group owes about $100,000 for GST, HST and payroll arrears. 

TLC treasurer Gary Holman says the group owes about $100,000 for GST, HST and payroll arrears.

Photograph by: Debra Brash, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

The Canada Revenue Agency agreed Friday to unfreeze The Land Conservancy's bank accounts, meaning the group can start paying local suppliers and lenders for the first time in a month.

"There are strings attached - the main restriction is we have to keep up to date with the CRA," said TLC treasurer Gary Holman.

"But it will enable us to pay our operating costs. - We have arrears to local suppliers and we will deal with those, going forward, as best we can."

TLC staff have worked with the agency to come up with a payment plan. The arrears for GST, HST and payroll are now down to about $100,000, Holman said.

"There are several strategies we are talking about to deal with that," Holman said. "We hope to pay off the CRA within a short period of time."

The bank accounts were frozen by the agency at the beginning of August, but were partially unfrozen earlier this week to allow TLC to pay its staff.

"The CRA was a rather large bump in the road because they have the ability to put themselves at the head of the line," Holman said.

TLC buys and looks after properties that are seen to have environmental or heritage significance. Its holdings on Vancouver Island include Madrona Farm, Ross Bay Villa, Abkhazi Garden and Sooke Potholes.

The organization is appealing to its members to help pay $12,000 in property taxes owed on about a dozen properties that could go to tax sale this year if the bills are not paid.

"We are going to deal with that because the consequences [of not paying] are not good," Holman said.

If property taxes are not paid in full for three years, the property is put up for a tax sale. Owners then have another year to pay the taxes and redeem the property before general bids are opened.

The property tax bill next year will be heftier, but Holman is hoping the worst of the conservation group's financial crisis will be over by then.

"We are taking one alligator at a time in terms of the overall picture," he said.

The "conservative cash flow projection" the TLC is living within since it started dramatic belt-tightening earlier this year is $125,000 a month.

"So far, we have been exceeding that," Holman said.

The organization has asked creditors and private mortgage-holders for a grace period of one year. and most have agreed to accept interest-only payments, he said.

In addition to membership fees, donations and revenue from properties such as the Sooke Potholes campsite and Abkhazi Gardens restaurant, the group is hoping to bring in money through the sale of a development property in Sechelt.

Most of the 300 TLC properties cannot be sold and many have covenants, but TLC is talking to other conservation groups about the possibility of allowing them to take over responsibility for some of the properties.

"We are also thinking about taking a more entrepreneurial approach to some of the heritage buildings," Holman said.

TLC vice-chairwoman Briony Penn said the organization is facing the same problems as many other non-profit groups as donations shrink with the economy and government grants dry up.

"We are the tip of the iceberg, but below us is a real iceberg of quiet despair in social and environmental non-profit organizations," she said.

TLC's annual financial statements will be released at the annual general meeting to be held at the University of Victoria on Nov. 3. jlavoie@timescolonist.com cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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