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Council pulls Teen Center support to put toward Fairgrounds

After providing financial assistance to the Calistoga Teen Center for 20 years, the City Council voted Tuesday to withdraw roughly $50,000 of that support as it braces for expenses associated with reopening the Fairgrounds.

Calistoga youths participate in a career and job skills class at the Teen Center, located in the Monhoff building on Stevensons Street in Calistoga. (Submitted Photo)

After providing financial assistance to the Calistoga Teen Center for 20 years, the City Council voted Tuesday to withdraw roughly $50,000 of that support as it braces for expenses associated with reopening the Fairgrounds.

Under terms of a new contract, the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga, which operates the Teen Center, would continue to lease the old Monhoff building, for $1 a year, just as they have for the past 20 – a contribution valued at roughly $83,000 based on city estimates of the annual market-rate rent for the space.

But the city is now requiring the Boys and Girls Club to split monthly utility costs for the building, which also houses a city Parks and Recreation office on the first floor, two racquetball courts, and two public restrooms. In 2023, city staff reported the utilities to the building cost about $17,000 for the year. 

The biggest hit to the Teen Center budget, however, is the loss of a $40,000 annual donation the city has made since at least 2018. According to a Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga spokesperson, the city has donated anywhere between $20,000 and $40,000 annually over the last 20 years.

Councilmember Scott Cooper spoke at the meeting about the city council’s shifting budget priorities. 

“I think that $40,000 would be better served funding one of our important priorities coming up,” Cooper said. “We’re going to have to make some hard choices on potentially reallocating some of these fundings to the Fairgrounds.”

The decision comes amid city budget discussions and anticipated deficits for the upcoming fiscal year that will begin on July 1. Also in July, the city is expected to officially acquire the Fairgrounds. Preliminary city budget approximations from the city estimate the annual operating expenses of the 72-acre property – one staff person and a mowing contract for basic landscaping needs – will cost up to $750,000.

Before the council vote Tuesday, councilmember Kevin Eisenberg proposed that the city provide the $40,000 to the Teen Center next year, and the lease rent-free, but require the Boys and Girls Clubs to pay the utilities.

Councilmember Lisa Gift also suggested that the council hold off on the decision until the proposed budget could be more closely analyzed.

“This is providing a really safe place for our children,” Gift said at the meeting. “We have to cut corners and we have to tighten our purse strings, but to do it to a nonprofit organization that serves the youth of our community is incredibly short sighted.”

Mayor Donald Williams, Vice Mayor Irais Lopez-Ortega and Cooper all acknowledged the importance of the of the Teen Center but said current budget conditions made their decision necessary.

“For me, it is about time we take a break from the $40,000 because, as councilmember Cooper mentioned, we now have the huge responsibility of the Fairgrounds,” Lopez-Ortega said. “In the past, we supported the Boys and Girls Club… we supported the program as much as possible, but now, we have another responsibility to take care of.”

But Trent Yaconelli, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs and former program manager of Calistoga’s Teen Center, who gave an overview of the Teen Center’s student resources to the council at the meeting Tuesday, said on Wednesday that he was “shocked” by the council’s decision. 

“It’s a huge slap in the face as far as I’m concerned,” Yaconelli told the Tribune. “I've been around for 20 years dealing with school boards and city councils and I've never seen anything this coordinated and short-sighted where they cut funding from children.”

The center, Yaconelli said, currently serves more than 100 Calistoga teens, roughly 38 percent of the Calistoga Junior/Senior High School student population. The programs offered at the Teen Center offer youths access to mental health services and retreats, career counseling and college tours.

Yaconelli said that an executive meeting of the Boys and Girls Clubs’ board of directors will be held in the next week to discuss next steps for the organization. 

“The club was blindsided by the vote to take away funds to serve the teens of this community,” he said. “I think the city council has forgotten that they serve the people, that they serve the children.”

Councilmember Eisenberg, contacted about the issue by the Tribune on Wednesday, said that the council decision was a “travesty.”

He added, “I’m disappointed, but that is democracy.”

A formal agreement between the city and the Boys and Girls Clubs was signed in 2004 allowing the Teen Center to operate in the Monhoff Center on Stevenson Street. In 2014, the entire building was vacated and renovated after a rainstorm damaged the building. During construction the Teen Center operated out of a modular unit on the property but has occupied the second floor of the Monhoff since moving back into the building in 2017 following the renovations.