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Scouts' debt to cost their members

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Scouts' debt to cost their members




Monmouth Council seeks annual fee


Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 01/23/06




MARLBORO Struggling to get out from under more than $1 million in debt, the Monmouth Council, Boy Scouts of America, will soon begin to charge each of its Scouts a $52 annual fee to stay afloat.


At a packed meeting Jan. 18, held at the Scout Service Center on Ginesi Drive, more than 100 troop leaders and parents, many of whom expressed frustration and confusion, listened to council leaders explain how the organization arrived in such dire financial straits.


In a letter sent to local Scoutmasters and troop leaders this week, Monmouth Council officials stated that in the past four years, the organization has gone from having a balanced budget to its current situation: more than $1 million in debt, at least $252,000 of which is considered past due.


"None of that money is for building anything or doing anything," said Carl Gross, the council's vice president of fund raising. "It's all for paying professionals, paying electric bills. . . . The problem is that there is from all sources not enough income to cover these expenses."


According to council officials, to pay the bills, the Executive Board of the Monmouth Council recently approved the pursuit of a $1.1 million mortgage, which will consolidate the organization's debts. The caveat: To get it, the organization has to show "a guaranteed source of income to repay the loan."


And this is where the new annual fee of $52 a year per Scout comes in. Previously, Scouts need only pay the council a one-time registration fee.


"As times change, we as a council must change with the times," the letter sent to troop leaders states. "This administrative fee is completely necessary to ensure our survival and the continuation of quality programs for all our Scouts and families. The Scouts are the reason we are all here, and for this same reason, we must all step up to the plate and ensure the survival of Scouting in Monmouth Council."


The council is also asking that the parents of Boy Scouts make a matching donation of $52 to help the organization, said Frank Davidson, chairman of the Camping Committee. These donations are not mandatory. To help soften the blow of the annual charge, families with more than one Boy Scout get a 25 percent discount per additional child. Therefore, a parent with three sons in Scouting would pay $52 for the first and $39 each for the second and third. The mandatory fees will be due March 15.


Annoyed or unaware


While several troop leaders expressed support for the new fees, other leaders and parents are outraged that the Monmouth Council is turning to its young members as a revenue source to bail itself out of a financial tailspin.


"This really just goes against the philosophy of Scouting, where they teach honesty and to live within your means," said Pam Semmel, troop committee chair of Troop 22, in Atlantic Highlands and the mother of two grown Eagle Scouts. "Fifty-two dollars is a lot of money to ask families here to take on."


At Pack 188's annual Pinewood Derby race, held Friday night at the Frank Defino Central Elementary School in Marlboro, few if any of the Scouts' parents were aware of the annual fees they will soon be asked to pay. The young Cub Scouts present were absorbed with racing their carefully sanded and painted pine race cars, scarfing down hot dogs and chasing each other around the gymnasium.


Den leader Mary-Ann Landi, however, was well aware of the situation, as she and other troop leaders recently attended a three-hour meeting similar to the one held Jan. 18 to discuss the council's fiscal crisis.


"Our main question was how it got this far," Landi said of the $1 million debt. "And there still isn't a clear answer. . . . My first thought when they told us this was, I have four boys in Scouts. On top of everything else, that's a lot of money."


Pack 188 Cubmaster Bill Conway was stunned to learn of the council's huge debt and said his main concern is that the children involved with Scouting not have events like the Pinewood Derby or camping taken away from them.


"I think this will shock parents, but it's reality," Conway said. "We either deal with it or we don't. We can't bury our heads in the sand."


Membership sinking


But asking for $52 a year in fees may hurt the Boy Scouts' dwindling membership numbers. There are 3.15 million youths in Scouting nationwide, according to 2004 figures, the latest available statistics. That number is 6 percent lower than the 2000 enrollment, and the number of adult volunteers has dropped 16 percent over that span.


Marjorie Ramirez, treasurer for the New Monmouth Pack 122 in Middletown, said a few years ago, her pack consisted of roughly 80 boys. Now there are 43.


"My concern is, out of 43 boys, you may make it 10 when you send that letter out (to parents about the $52 fee)," Ramirez told the council leaders Jan. 18. "It's not so much the Scouts, but the parents who won't want to pay it, and they'll just pull their children out."


In a later interview, Ramirez said her pack, unlike many other Boy Scouts groups in the county, actively engages in fund-raising efforts. Last year, each of the pack's Scouts had to meet a personal fund-raising goal of $75. To do this, each Scout had to stand outside a food store in Middletown for three hours selling popcorn. The strategy worked: Ramirez's pack alone brought in $13,000 from the popcorn sales.


"They would actually make more money if they made all the packs and troops sell popcorn, instead of making everyone pay $52," Ramirez said.


How did it happen?


According to Smith, a "perfect storm" of events, not mismanagement, led to the council's current debt crisis. But much of the blame was laid at the feet of the Friends of Scouts (FOS), a fund-raising group that is supposed to work on a grassroots level throughout the county.


Late last year, council leaders asked for help from the Boy Scouts' national headquarters in Dallas. Their review, Smith said, found a "profound problem with FOS . . . We have a very anemic FOS that didn't perform even at an anemic level."


FOS participation within Monmouth County is the lowest in Area II, which covers more than 14 councils in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and parts of New York. Smith said. Fund-raising efforts from the county's FOS fell $100,000 last year, he said.


Since 2000, the council had also "footed the bill for a lot of things we shouldn't have been doing," Smith said. This includes the Learning For Life program, an after-school initiative that helped foster Scout values in non-Boy Scout settings.


The majority of the audience at the Jan. 18 meeting was dumbfounded to learn of this program, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to run and has been without national funding for years. One parent shouted, "When did this happen? None of us even know about it!"


Council optimistic


The council has already written into its budget the $390,000 it expects to receive if each of the county's 7,937 Boy Scouts pay the $52 fee, Davidson said. Though some troop leaders in the audience at the Jan. 18 meeting said they were skeptical the council could meet this goal, the executive leaders expressed optimism that it will happen.


A computer slide show shown at the meeting, for example, illustrated how the $52 fee breaks down to $1 a week, and asked, "What did you pay for coffee this week? Is Scouting worth that?"


Still, there may be unpleasant consequences if the council can't pay its debts. It's likely that in such a scenario, the Monmouth Council would be forced to merge with another nearby jurisdiction, Smith said. To prove a point, when Smith asked how many members of the audience don't want to see a merger happen, almost everyone raised their hands.


Smith explained that the Monmouth Council is one of the few Boy Scout councils in the nation that comprises a single county. And it's likely that if another council took over, one of its first actions would be to sell the Monmouth Council's Scout reservation at Forestburg, N.Y., for profit a hypothetical situation that elicited groans of disgust from the audience.


The council's Executive Board first saw storm clouds on its fiscal horizon last year, and almost instituted mandatory $35 fees from Scouts, Gross said. This would have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, the council opted to ask families for voluntary donations. They collected only $18,000.


Council leaders insisted they have run several successful fund-raising mechanisms in recent years. For example, Gross said that Boy Scout sales of popcorn brought in $150,000 last year, and their annual golf outing brought in $117,000.


"Every scheme this board could come up with in the last five years, we did," Smith said. "And that's been substantial. But we're at the end of our rope."


ON THE WEB: Visit our Web site, www.app.com, and click on Web Extras for a link to: the Boy Scouts of America


James A. Quirk: (732) 308-7758 or jquirk@app.com

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Maybe its just coincidence (and I'm doubtful about that) but James Dale was from the Monmouth Council.


James Dale, as many will recall, was the plaintiff in the Dale vs. Boy Scouts America that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that allows the BSA to keep gays out of scouting.


Coincidentally (or not), Monmouth had a balanced budget until the year 2000, the year of the Supreme Court ruling.


National paid for the court costs for all of the appeals, not Monmouth Council, so the cost for the case can't be blamed for this.


Could it be that the Monmouth Council community is expressing their opinion of the results with their dollars (or withholding of dollars)?





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Something doesn't add up. Their FOS fundraising fell $100,000 last year, and they are $1 million in debt??

If the council covers only 8,000 Scouts, maybe they should merge with another. My council (Atlanta Area) covers around 34,000 Scouts.

If this is all the information the Scouting families are given about the cause of the financial crisis, I think they are going to meet with a lot of resistance. I would certainly want to know more about the situation before I made a contribution to help the council.

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I can't help but think that it isn't going too be long until a lot more Councils come up with similar schemes.

The Council that I serve has a "Suggested level of giving" for Board members and last year when things started looking not so good Board members were asked to come up with an extra $500.00 each.

It is a sad fact that many of the units in our Council do nothing to help support the Council. They don't participate in the popcorn sale or the FOS campaign. So a set fee would mean that everyone would share the cost of Council services.

I have to admit that I'm really happy that this year I will not be visiting the units doing FOS presentations.

As yet I don't know if I'm still on our Executive Board or not. If I'm not I'll still make a donation to FOS,but not at the board level. I will donate the difference to the Ship. I know where that $1,000 will go and how it will be spent.




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I have no idea the finacial health of our council but stories like this make me shudder. We have a council office and scout shop located in a very upscale office building in the heart of our technology center. I'm sure the rent on that space is high. Now perhaps they have a very generous patron who leases the space to them well below market value. Obviously, scouting doesn't need prestigious office space. They could do the same job in a third rate remodeled strip mall. I might post that question when the FOS guy comes around.

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Guidestar.com has the Form 990s for Monmouth Council through 2003. They seemed to be doing fairly well. In 2003, the Council showed a $291K 'profit'. The balance sheet reflects a net fund balance of $1.5 million. Also in that year it looks like there was a $1.5 million capital improvement (new headquarters?) that was funded with debt. The SE was Matthew Thornton who was paid $92K during the year (up from $60K in 2001). The Monmouth Council website is showing a new SE - Lee Marconi. The financial freefall over the past two years certainly coincides with the change in SE. They can spin this anyway they want, blaming all sorts of reasons, but in the end it is up to management to ensure that the necessary staffing cuts (payroll is 50% of Council revenues) are made to avoid desperate situations like this.


IMO this Council is done. The good thing is that there are dedicated volunteer scouters in that county who will ensure that the boys continue to have a solid scouting program.

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WOW! If this council showed a decent profit in 2003, and that same year they used all their reserves for a capital improvement project, mis-management seems to be the problem.


Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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The Monmouth Council website includes a 2004 annual report (not 990) which touts their move to a brand new facility - from the picture of the building included in the report, it looks like brand new construction. They overspent on a new headquarters building and now they demand the boys and their families to bale them out. This council management gets no sympathy from me.

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This quote says it all:


"None of that money is for building anything or doing anything," said Carl Gross, the council's vice president of fund raising. "It's all for paying professionals, paying electric bills. . . ."


Wait right there while I go home and get my checkbook...

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I can see this happening to my council in just a few years, at least to a degree. They currently are moving to a new headquarters, which at the current size of their professional operation IS too small. But the new building is huge, at least 4-5 times bigger than what they have now, and are making due with at this point. Confernece rooms, training rooms, huge lobby, museum, etc... are not necessary. And this is the scaled down model, from the 2 story monster they were going to build 2 years ago (I saw the 3d model, it was huge). Now the plans are for a 1 story builidng that is even smaller than the original plans called for the 1st story to be in this new building, because they couldn't raise enough money.


Fortunately they supposedly are not using any normal income to finance the construction of this builiding, and had a fund raising drive going for about 3 years to raise the 1 million they needed for a building.


But, then the bills for the building will come in (electric, water, heat and so on). Plus the huge over staffing they have: 7 DE's, SE, ASE, 2 Field Directors, Finance director, camping director, 7 secretaries, 2-3 aides in the building and 1 full time and 2-3 part time scout shop employees. I'm sure I'm missing a few here. That pay roll has to be in the 500K plus range every year.


We are a decent sized council, but in recent years we have not grown, but our professional staff has. I just hope the same thing does not happen to us and other council's as has happened to Momouth.

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While you might very well be right when you say:

"The financial freefall over the past two years certainly coincides with the change in SE"

But I can't help wondering if the writing was on the wall and maybe Matthew Thornton seen this and got out before things got a little too hot?

We have Districts that are still trying to clean up the mess that a FD made and he has been gone for 15 months.

While I'm trying to be cheerful, I can't help feeling that we are in for a very tough year. People are really upset about the cost of heating their homes and filling their cars. Prices seem to be going up everywhere. In our area we have seen Lennox glass works close and now Sony is pulling the plug. The small businesses in the area are having a hard time with health care costs as are their employees. Many have given to the Red Cross and just don't have the extra few dollars to donate. Falling membership means that there are fewer kids selling popcorn. So things don't look that good.

While I firmly believe that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. I do however think it is time we took a long hard look at what we are paying our SE's. $92,000 is one heck of a lot of popcorn.


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I'm actually from that council.



I think it's embarrasing, actually.



Anyway, I'm not sure what they've been up to with those funds, but I have seen the new building. Fairly large, with a new national shop(I personally prefered the locally run thing. This one is crazy with paperwork. The other guys were fine to trust what you said. They're not bad guys, just very beaurecratic.


I'm not exactly sure where that money is going to though. Likely management, but I suppose it might be going to something else.


I haven't personally been told of this yet, but I did read about it in the local newspaper. I imagine we won't pay it out of our pockets. Out of the troop's funds, I imagine, but not by begging the scouts. I'm not going to do that, anyway. It's still very silly.

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This is another good example of why the professional side of the BSA needs to be reorganized. As was discussed on a previous thread fiscal mismanagement on the national and council level is the main reason the BSA is in such trouble. I also agree that this could be the start of a disturbing trend for any council whether or not they are having money trouble. Scout Executives and National Execs salaries have continued to climb higher every year while the financial shape of many councils continues to decline, so the BSA continues to reward incompetence. Camps and other council property continues to be sold off to pay for larger and larger debts incurred by council execs and their story is always the same, "You all don't contribute enough to the FOS campaign."


Well I feel its time to send National a message, do a better job managing council resources and then and only then will you see income from FOS increase. Reward the council executives who are doing a good job, and replace all the rest, not by moving them somewhere else either, just fire them outright.

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Our council has instituted a "fuel" surcharge on all cabin rentals, camp site fees, etc. This includes those units who have already made payment for future outings. Grab money when and where you can!


To me, there aways seems to be an underlying form of animosity or distrust of professional Scouters by some of the adult volunteers. Many (erroneously I might add) feel "why should they get paid for what I volunteer to do for free?" and other such thoughts. In fact, what we (volunteers) do and what professionals do are not very related.


Anyway, some don't "give" to Scouting the way they have in the past. I believe that the BSAs stance that they are a "private" organization, while legally correct, has blunted the flow of money from the public sector (United Way, charitable giving by corporations and individuals, school access, etc.). During our FOS campaigns (I've been on both sides of the fence as an FOS presenter and as a FOS "giver") we are told that a $125 contribution about covers what the council spends on each Scout above and beyond what we pay to council. The problem as I see it is, instead of getting a broader base of FOS givers, they are asking a shrinking base to give more and more.



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