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News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 20, 2017
CHI dissolving over financial issues
Caterpillar Hill property reverts to owner

Caterpillar Hill

The view from Caterpillar Hill.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo

PDF Document
CHI Timeline
Caterpillar Hill Initiative Timeline

by Anne Berleant

The Caterpillar Hill Initiative, which purchased 30 prime acres on top of Caterpillar Hill in 2014, has returned the land to its previous owner and loan holder Basil Ladd because of nonpayment, according to CHI board secretary Sally Taylor. CHI owed “more or less” the purchase price, she said, about $700,000 of the $740,000 purchase price, and is now in the process of dissolving as an organization.

“I think the board has been eager to get this resolved. We’re all relieved now, despite the fact that it’s kind of sad,” Taylor said.

CHI purchased the property in 2014 for $740,000, using $100,000 of a $125,000 loan from Equity Trust as a down payment, with Ladd financing the remainder of the purchase price. The nonprofit quickly ran into financial problems.

Of the plan to build a mandala-shaped amphitheater as a fundraising vehicle, through 6,000 tiles “sponsored” by individuals, all that exists is a simple wooden frame now overgrown with weeds and bushes.

In 2015, the board of directors changed, with founder Kelly Mitchell and then-president Dylan Howard leaving, and only one board member, Holly Taylor-Lash, staying on. Taylor joined shortly thereafter.

“We began to realize the scheme the former board was trying to pursue was simply not going to work,” Taylor said. “It was unrealistic to begin with [and] the local community was not particularly interested.”

The legal agreement returning the property to Ladd took months of negotiations. “Some agreement had to be reached between Equity Trust and Basil Ladd,” Taylor said.

Sketchy financials

CHI formed as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in 2005, which allowed donations to be tax-exempt. By 2008, CHI had raised over $15,000 for two purchase options for 10 acres. In 2014, it received a $125,000 loan from Equity Trust.

CHI was not required to file tax returns because of its low income until 2014, when it received the $125,000 from Equity Trust. While no 2014 tax return was filed, CHI made public a financial report, which listed as income $14,500 in donations, $4,000 in grants and the $125,000 loan from Equity Trust.

Apart from the $100,000 purchase down payment, expenses were listed as $12,000 executive director salary, plus $1,500 for “fringe” expenses, $2,000 for a marketing director, $2,500 for marketing materials, and $2,000 in instructor fees. Utilities, insurance and office supplies accounted for $5,480.

This left a net income of $18,020. Since then, either no financial records were kept or they were lost, Taylor said. Former board members replaced in late 2015 said the money was used to reimburse them for expenses, Taylor said.

In 2015-16, a few thousand dollars was spent on insurance and utilities, which primarily came from one donor, Taylor said.

“The people who know what actually happened are just not going to say anything,” Taylor said. “I do know the previous board was very careless of record keeping.”