MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) trustees will meet next month to discuss future operations of the organization in wake of the resignation of its most recent executive director, Josh Phillips.
Trustees stressed that MALT will continue what has been a 24-year run as a local conservation organization, but noted that Phillips’ departure presents a good opportunity for some bureaucratic introspection.
Story Jenks, president of the MALT board of trustees, noted the organization has temporarily brought in Katherine Branch as part-time administrator. And he is confident MALT’s work — which includes several pending conservation projects — will get done.
“This organization hasn’t had a lot of executive directors over a period of time,” Jenks said. “When one leaves, it is an opportunity for the organization to pull together to do more work until we can find a new (administrator).”
MALT has an annual budget of $150,000 to $200,000, according to Jenks. It receives funding for projects primarily through private donations from individuals and businesses; memberships; grants from organizations such as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; and its annual trail race, the TAM Team Trek, or “T3.”
Officials acknowledged MALT, and indeed many conservation organizations statewide, are functioning in tougher financial times. State and federal funding for land easements — and nonprofit causes in general — has been tightening up as lawmakers in Montpelier and Washington D.C. craft budgets.
“I think it would be fair to say that MALT has had some troubled times,” said Middlebury Selectman and MALT Trustee Victor Nuovo.
He said MALT has derived a portion of its operating income through administration of the various conservation projects it has implemented.
“I think in a previous phase, (MALT) has very ambitious programs that ended in indebtedness, rather than positive income,” Nuovo said.
He credited a previous interim executive director, Robin Scheu, with balancing MALT’s books a few years ago and placing it on a more sustainable course. But Nuovo said it appears further austerity measures might have to be taken at this point in MALT’s history so that it can continue to fulfill its mission of conserving key agricultural and scenic resources, while providing stewardship to one of its crowning achievements: the 16-mile Trail Around Middlebury (TAM).
The organization has conserved more than 2,300 acres in Middlebury and neighboring towns and has three ongoing projects: the Greenbelt project allow Otter Creek, the Powerhouse project, and Otter View Park.
“I think we need this service; the problem is exactly how to do it,” Nuovo said. “MALT doesn’t have the resources right now to hire a new executive director.”
With that in mind, Nuovo said MALT will likely “re-trench to consider a program director and let board members take on some of the burdens of the executive function and see if it can’t rebuild some useful programs as it goes ahead.”
Nuovo anticipates the organization will downsize its office space. MALT is currently a tenant in the Marble Works complex.
In the meantime, Nuovo encouraged town officials and residents to give feedback on “what do we, as a town, want MALT to provide us with?”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.