Philmont Scout Ranch is a vast and spectacular piece of property in New Mexico. It is owned by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). But the financially strapped organization took out a large mortgage on the property last fall.
The BSA says it has no plans to sell the property. The land is offered as collateral in the big loan. Collateral is the term used for something of value in a financial lending situation. The BSA needs to borrow some money. It owns property that has great value. So the BSA says to a bank or other lender, “Please loan us money. We will pay you back. But if we don’t, this property will become yours in exchange.” The land backs up the promise of repayment. A loan issued with collateral backing it up is called a mortgage.
Officials with the Boy Scouts believe this to be a wise way to help the organization through what it hopes will be a temporary rough spot. But the decision dismayed a member of Philmont’s oversight committee. He says it violates the agreement made when the land was donated to the Scouts in 1938.
Mark Stinnett is a lawyer. He’s also the member of the committee that objected to the mortgage deal. “The first point of the Scout Law is ‘A Scout is trustworthy,’” Stinnett wrote in his complaint. “I am distressed beyond words at learning that our leaders apparently have not been.”
He says the $446 million in debt the Scouts received from the agreement with J.P. Morgan Chase puts the property at risk of loss. When it was originally given by wealthy oilman Waite Phillips, it was transferred as a “restricted asset,” Stinnett claims. That means that BSA is not free to transfer it to anyone else.
The BSA says operations at Philmont “continue uninterrupted, and we are committed to ensuring that the property will continue to serve and benefit the Scouting community for years to come.” But a spokesperson defended the mortgage as the means to meet that commitment: “In the face of rising insurance costs, it was necessary for the BSA to . . . address our current financial situation. This included identifying certain properties, including Philmont Scout Ranch, that could be used as collateral.”
The BSA says it’s exploring “all available options,” including passing costs on to members. The annual membership fee for its 2.2. million youth members will rise from $33 to $60 next year. Many members are not happy about that either.
Managing money, property, and people’s best interests takes real wisdom, and sometimes it’s not possible to please everyone involved.