A cold Christmas waits for unpaid Little Paws workers

Breanna Blottner, 23, is returning the Christmas gifts she bought. She needs the money to pay rent. Blottner is one of 15 daycare workers who used…

Breanna Blottner, 23, is returning the Christmas gifts she bought.

She needs the money to pay rent.

Blottner is one of 15 daycare workers who used to work for Little Paws Learning Centre.

The beleaguered daycare closed on Tuesday after its landlord evicted the nonprofit from the new building it had occupied for only five months.

But that was only the beginning of the bad news for Blottner and her colleagues.

Now their paycheques are bouncing.

Both Blottner and Andrew Robulack, director of the daycare, are quick to blame the daycare’s landlord, David Borud.

On Monday, Borud cashed an old rent cheque that had previously bounced.

The cashing of that cheque, worth $12,600, threw Robulack’s plans to shut down the daycare into disarray. With that money, he barely had enough money to pay his employees for their final three weeks of work.

Following the withdrawal, he didn’t have enough. Paycheques for eight or nine employees bounced.

And he still hadn’t cut cheques to pay employees for their final week of work. Nor is he able to refund fees for parents.

For Blottner, the daycare’s empty coffers means she will no longer receive $4,500 in wages, vacation pay and other outstanding money.

It’s a big hit.

So she’s preparing to return the presents she bought for family. Her bank account is overdrawn, and it’s the only way she can pay her rent and electricity bills.

“I don’t think it’s going to be much of a Christmas,” she said tearfully.

Robulack calls the decision to cash the cheque “diabolical.” He insists he and Borud struck a deal in which the daycare, which was two months in arrears, would remain inside the building until the end of December.

He also insists Borud understood the remaining money was required to pay employees.

Robulack learned his deal had fallen apart when he saw a legal notice posted on the building’s door, ordering the daycare to leave the premises within four days.

Blottner, meanwhile, likens Borud to the Grinch.

“Who kicks out kids on Christmas?” she asked.

But this is not a tidy Christmas allegory.

Borud, who declined to be interviewed, may seem cold-hearted for ordering the sudden eviction and the collection of money he was owed just days before Christmas. But he is a developer who has spent $500,000 on a new building equipped with toddler-height toilets that will soon require a new tenant. Finding one, presumably, won’t be easy.

He’s said in the past he’s simply doing his job. Right now, that means cutting his losses.

True, he will see a short-term windfall of $50,000 when he collects a security deposit that backed the five-year leasing deal. But he won’t be earning money while the building sits empty. And if he must renovate the building for other purposes, this is bound to be expensive.

And Borud can hardly be faulted for the daycare’s failure.

The fault appears to lie with the daycare’s old board of directors who agreed to the lease agreement, which Robulack describes as hopelessly ill-conceived.

Tami Hamilton and Sandra Orban signed the lease. Neither could be reached before press time.

The Yukon government also shares blame, said Robulack, for it did not perform due diligence before backing the daycare’s lease with a $50,000 cheque.

He can find no evidence of a business plan that shows how the daycare could support the lease, which tripled the daycare’s lease payments, to $12,000 from $4,000.

Yet the Department of Social Services appears to have cut a $50,000 damage deposit for the daycare without question. Following the daycare’s eviction, Borud will now collect that money.

Had the department asked some basic questions, it would have become clear the daycare’s foundation was flimsy.

To pay rent, the daycare would need to enrol 98 students. That’s one-third more children than the daycare’s licence permits, and more than double December’s enrolment of about 45 children.

The plan may have been viable if the daycare succeeded in subletting the vacant third floor of the building. But the daycare’s operators, inexperienced in such things, became entangled in red tape at city hall and the space remained unused.

Even so, Robulack said an informal deal struck with a potential tenant would never have produced enough money for the daycare to break even.

Until paycheques began to bounce, Robulack wanted no more money from the territory. He felt bad enough that $50,000 of the Yukon government’s money had gone to waste.

But now his plan for the daycare’s closure has collapsed. Even after selling off the daycare’s assets, the nonprofit still needs about $8,000 to pay its workers.

The Yukon government, it could be argued, helped make this mess. Will it help clean it up?

So far, the answer is no.

Yesterday, Robulack and several board members sent a letter to Glenn Hart, the Social Services minister, to plead their case.

But the department does not plan to help the daycare pay its employees, said Patricia Living, a spokeswoman for Social Services.

“The employee-employer relationship is between the individual employees and the society itself, as represented by the executive director and the board of directors. It is the society who is legally responsible for meeting payroll,” she wrote in an e-mail.

The department is helping clients of Little Paws find new daycares to place their children. It will also send Little Paws some outstanding subsidies, worth $5,700. But it is also billing the daycare for $12,500.

That money is owed to the government because the daycare has not met its lease obligations, say officials.

Blottner calls this “ridiculous.”

It’s all little help to her and her co-workers. Some have found new jobs. She hasn’t yet.

Even if she does succeed in finding work, Blottner won’t be paid until after the holidays.

So the slippers, mittens, mugs and trinkets she bought for relatives, which all sit wrapped under her Christmas tree, will likely have to be returned.

Unless Hart intervenes soon, the only thing Blottner will be able to afford to give her family this Christmas are IOUs.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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