Girl Scouts want to sell taxpayer-donated camp to developer

The only Girl Scout camp in Broward County — woodsy acreage donated by taxpayers — could be closed and sold to developers — if county commissioners agree.

More than 600 Broward girls used Camp Telogia last year, and local Girl Scout leaders say it’s cherished. But their parent organization, the Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida Inc., considers the park underused and wants to plow proceeds from its sale into improving two other camps outside of Broward County.

“We can no longer afford to manage, maintain and we cannot upgrade a property that isn’t serving a larger number of girls,” said Lisa Johnson, chief strategy officer for Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida.

The request was snagged in controversy earlier this month when the county auditor recommended a “no” vote, and Girl Scout leaders implored commissioners to save the Parkland camp. A Broward County Commission vote was delayed to Oct. 13.

“It’s our only land in Broward. It is being used. It’s the girls’ foray into camping,” said attorney Marilyn Bonilla Krantz, leader of her teenage daughter’s Troop 10164. “The girls are just so upset that this could potentially be unavailable to girls in the future.”

Krantz said she and other Girl Scout leaders hope to convince the non-profit organization to drop the idea.

Valued at more than $2.3 million, the 9.5 acres technically belongs to the Girl Scouts, but the county sold it to them in 1961 for $1, with strings attached: The land was to remain in use for Broward Girl Scouts, and it could not be leased or sold without county permission.

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The Girl Scouts organization is asking county commissioners to release the restrictions on the land so they can sell it to a developer, though no developer has been identified.

As proposed, the funds could be used for anything, County Auditor Evan Lukic noted. The organization serves six counties.

This is the Girl Scouts’ third trip down this trail. In 1999, the organization, saddled with financial difficulties, talked of selling Camp Telogia. When the idea was broached again in 2003, the County Commission firmly said no.

The local organization’s latest quest to shed real estate has been mirrored by Girl Scout troops across America.

Sites like Camp Telogia with few amenities — no pond or pool, for example — are less attractive to today’s girls, some leaders say. Many Scout groups are selling older camps and using the money to focus on improving camps that remain.

Usage of Camp Telogia has declined in recent years, according to Johnson.

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The Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida said in a report to the county that “factors such as parental protectiveness, increased use of technology devices, and a host of structured activities competing for children’s time have led to girls spending less and less time outside.”

Surrounded by single-family homes, the rustic patch where Girl Scouts have roasted marshmallows for half a century is nestled in a quiet corner of Northwest Broward County, off Holmberg Road.

If the camp were sold, troops seeking a Girl Scouts-only campsite would have to travel to Camp Nocatee southwest of Clewiston, or Camp Welaka adjacent to Jonathan Dickinson State Park on the Palm Beach-Martin County line.

Or they could use city or county parks.

But one Scout mom, Marci Talisman, told commissioners Camp Telogia is safer than county parks, where “there are vagrant populations nearby. There have been problems of marijuana smoke next to the camps. So we choose not to do that.”

Dollars and cents

The Girl Scouts wouldn’t save much money by shutting down Camp Telogia.

In the Girl Scouts’ approximately $4.6 million budget, the net cost to maintain Camp Telogia last year was $17,900, Johnson said.

“The savings from operations would be nominal,” she said. “But the opportunity to generate the revenue from the sale would be a tremendous benefit to the other properties.”

Though the camps are not in Broward County, Johnson said 88 percent of the users of Camp Nocatee and 34 percent of the users of Camp Welaka are from Broward County.

There are 5,500 Girl Scouts in Broward, about half the organization’s membership. It also serves Palm Beach, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

Johnson said the decision wasn’t made lightly.

“This property has been an amazing gift from the county for 54 years. The opportunity and ability for us to operate it as a Girl Scout camp was a tremendous gift. We now need to look at the changing needs of our girls and make sure we’re poised to provide this type of programming for the girls for generations to come,” she said.

But Scout leaders like Talisman warned commissioners in emails that the money could be put toward overhead and pensions.

The organization’s latest Internal Revenue Service filing for non-profits, from 2014, shows it closed the budget year in the red, with $23,508 more expenses than income.

“Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida has done an excellent job of covertly moving their agenda to use our treasure to fund their pensions, pay their salaries and maintain their offices,” Talisman wrote in an email.

Johnson said the local Girl Scouts have paid toward the pension shortfalls since they began in 2011 and will continue to, at a declining rate, until the plan is fully funded in 2023. That issue “in no way factored into this process,” she said.

At the Sept. 10 county meeting, the organization’s CEO Denise Valz said “none of this money … would be going to the national organization.”

Burning controversy

Broward County‘s auditor, Lukic, said the proposal should be rejected.

Lukic said releasing restrictions on the land would allow the Girl Scouts to sell it for any purpose — with no accountability to ensure the Broward public would benefit.

He said the Boy Scouts, who have similarly deeded land from Broward County — 116 acres — could ask for the same thing.

But Broward Commissioner Stacy Ritter, a Parkland resident who sponsored the agenda item, said he had no right to make that recommendation.

Article source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/fl-broward-girl-scouts-giveaway-20150927-story.html

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