The survival of a 90-year-old community institution was at stake during a meeting last Wednesday, as the Lillooet Legion executive met with an advisor to discuss solutions to the service club’s financial woes–with closing the doors completely very much on the table.
That won’t be happening, but the Legion will be cutting back its hours of service to trim costs while initiating other changes to increase the budget for operational expenses.
“We had a meeting with branch operations advisor Rino Castelli, from Prince George. Rino is responsible for overall operations and advising branches on financial matters and general operation,” Legion president Bruce MacLennan said Thursday. MacLennan is also publisher of this newspaper.
“Over the course of the last few years, the Lillooet Legion has been in decline in membership and in finances. We’ve noticed a decline in customers coming in and found ourselves in a situation where we we’ve been taking a loss in our operations,” MacLennan explained.
“Because of the loss situation that we were in, we called in Rino and he gave us some advice as to how we can continue in the future. One of the main concerns, was the losses that we were taking on sales Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we have thus decided to close on those days,” he said.
“In spite of an increase in the number of events – karaokes, open mics, dances, that we’re holding on the weekends, the through-the-week operations are where we’re taking a loss. There has been an increase in weekend events, the support is greatly appreciated, we hope to continue to build on those weekend events to provide more revenue flow.”
That revenue is needed for basic costs like keeping the lights on and the pipes from freezing in the winter, costs that can only be covered from certain revenue sources, mainly profits from the bar, because of the structure of the Legion constitution.
“While support for our meat draws is appreciated, all the money raised through meat draws on Fridays and Sundays is donated to the community, not one cent goes to the Legion general funds,” MacLennan said.
“The Legion operational account is made up of bar profits, donations, and a very small amount of money from membership dues.”
Small as in about $4 from each $55 annual membership fee goes to help cover local expenses, with the rest going to BC/Yukon Command, the organization’s regional governing body.
“Because of a number of costs that we are having, and in particular the heating bills in that old building, we found that we’re losing in the neighborhood of $2,000 per month. One serious concern was that we would have to close completely, which would have a devastating effect on the community,” MacLennan said.
“It should be noted, the thousands of dollars per year that the Legion contributes to sporting groups, to the rescue society, to the hospital foundation and various other organizations in town and these monies have been donated since its inception almost 90 years ago.”
MacLennan also noted that there are nine part-time jobs on the line if the Legion were to close.
He added the building itself serves a valuable community function as a venue for seniors’ programs, wedding receptions, memorial services and other events.
“We are applying for a grant now to improve seating–new chairs for our front hall and hopefully that will encourage more rental income.”
Cutting costs is one side of the solution to the Legion’s money troubles, MacLennan said, the other is increasing revenue, particularly revenue that can be applied to operational costs, which mostly boils down to more people coming through the door.
“We will as well be starting a significant membership drive and a campaign promoting the Legion and what we contribute to the community each year. It should be noted that the Legion is a non-profit organization, all moneys that are raised after operational expenses are donated back to the community. No one, aside from the servers behind the bar, is paid,” he said.
“What we’re hoping for is a higher volume of people aware of the services we provide and taking advantage of the community building and the social aspect of supporting the Legion. We’re hoping an increase in membership will keep us going at the bar.”
The service club is also in the process of applying for a license change, which would allow anyone to come into the bar without being sponsored by a member as is now required.