Council Ends Struggle With High Cost Contract
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – As the city struggles with limited funding to avert bankruptcy one question being asked is why a functioning program that cost $1.00 a year was replaced with the same program costing the city $250,000 a year.
The architect of that plan, former city manager Rick Daniels, is no longer in the city to answer that question. And as The Desert Sun newspaper has noted in several articles and editorials Mr. Daniels is not taking phone calls to answer questions.
Without answering the question, the result of the decision to dismantle the Boys & Girls Club of Desert Hot Springs now finds the city council faced with finding a way to fund what has ever since been a $250,000 a year youth program provided by the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley that by all accounts is very popular.
A large number of young people showed up at a January 7 city council meeting to show support and tell the city council they did not want their programs cut. Parents joined in to also deliver the message they did not want to see youth programs in the city disappear.
City leaders struggling with a fiscal crisis said they are determined to keep that from happening.
Councilman Scott Matas Created Alarm
It was a vote at a previous council meeting in December that set off community alarm. On a motion by Councilman Scott Matas, the council voted to end the contract with the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley and the $250,000 annually paid by the city in order to free up the city to explore other funding options.
It was only three years ago that the Boys and Girls Club of the Coachella Valley took over running youth programs in the city with the disbanding of the local Boys and Girls club.
At the January 7 meeting Mayor Adam Sanchez was joined by council members Joe McKee, Russell Betts and Jan Pye issuing statements of support for continued youth programs with each taking added time to explain the financial problem the city now faces, including how to come up with $250,000 a year to keep paying the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley.
When faced with the many youth lined up at the podium on January 7 to criticize the council for terminating the Coachella Valley contract Matas used his comments to back-pedal, saying he fully supported the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley.
Matas did not explain why he had made the motion to terminate the program at the previous council meeting but his intransigence made him appear as a champion of youth in sole defiance to the rest of the council painted as evil meanies bent on eliminating city youth programs.
Several programs operate from the Health and Wellness Center, not just the Boys & Girls Club. For community benefit the combined costs of those programs take an annual $995,000 bite out of the budget.
The Center is administered by an independent non-profit organization, the Desert Hot Springs Health and Wellness Foundation. The city council does not make operational decisions. The Foundation only recently obtained non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service and has meetings open to the public for addressing community concerns.
The Foundation’s board of directors are made up of two representatives appointed by the Desert Health Care District (another public elected body) and three directors appointed by the city. With the non-profit status of the Foundation now in place, fundraising efforts can begin with the board starting to seek grants and philanthropy to pay the $995,000 a year annual cost to keep the building open. Only now can that begin.
Many Programs – Limited Funding
Programs at the Health and Wellness Center include Borrego Springs Health Foundation providing a no or low cost dental clinic for the community plus a state of the art exercise gym with digital recording devices provided by the Desert Health Care District. The city also operates a competition swimming pool. Then there is the Boys & Girls Club in the west wing of the city’s building.
Mayor Adam Sanchez in addition to his duties as chair of the Health and Wellness Center Foundation Board is looking to not only raise funds to keep the doors open but to expand services to include job training and affordable child care services. The addition of these two programs is expected to help with fund raising efforts.
Concern over keeping the facility open started when the City of Desert Hot Springs declared a fiscal emergency and as part of cost cutting measures terminated the $250,000 contract with the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley. The city council expressed support for continuing youth programs but explained they needed to cut the cords from several contracts the city could not afford.
Suffering five years of deficit spending pushed the city towards bankruptcy causing the city to keep a new multi-million pool open for only three months last year. The cost to operate the pool through a contract with the Desert Recreation District amounts to $350,000 for three months.
Doing More At Less Cost
To ease the cash demand to keep the entire building open, the city is now looking to the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley to provide services at the same cost it charges other cities. Cathedral City for example is charged just $30,000 a year for their program run by the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley. Other cities in the Valley and many cities across the nation make no financial contribution for the same organization to run their youth programs.
The election of November 2013 seated a new council majority. It was immediately tasked with avoiding bankruptcy. Its challenge is to do more at less cost.
Local Youth Program Operations
If the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley is unable to provide a lower cost city leaders say will have to find another way to keep the city’s youth programs operating. One option is to keep the same staff operating the city’s youth Center.
Prior to the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley taking over in Desert Hot Springs, the city’s youth program was operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Desert Hot Springs with Adam Sanchez as its director.
The Boys & Girls Club of Desert Hot Springs was a self-sustaining organization with a steady flow of grants and other contributions covering operating costs. It paid the city $1.00 a year for use of a building at Wardman Park and has been much heralded as a successful organization for providing vital services for youth.
The local board of directors voted to disband the Desert Hot Springs club on the understanding that the Coachella Valley club would be better able to raise funds. That did not happen as promised. The majority of funding for the last two years came from Desert Hot Springs taxpayers via the $250,000 annual payment to the Coachella Valley club.
Another Victim of Rick Daniels Politics
Political reasons are seen at the core of Rick Daniels move to disband the Desert Hot Springs youth club. It was Daniels that started the ball rolling by commissioning a $15,000 feasibility study resulting in the elimination of the city’s own Desert Hot Springs club. It was a move supported by former mayor Yvonne Parks and council member Jan Pye who served as a director on the Boys and Girls Club of Desert Hot Springs.
While running the Desert Hot Springs club, Adam Sanchez made a run for Mayor, challenging then mayor Yvonne Parks, a close political ally of Rick Daniels. Daniels used city funds to hire a consultant, Bob Ross, to do the feasibility study. Ross, with strong ties to the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley recommended the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley.
Some 60 people hand picked by Rick Daniels were interviewed for the feasibility study. None were parents of children attending the local city club. Some had no children at all. Several commented they had no knowledge of programs offered by the local youth club.
The result of Daniels’ study was a determination that the city would be better served by a new operator, the Boys and Girls Club of the Coachella Valley.
With Rick Daniels justification in hand the Boys and Girls Club of Desert Hot Springs unceremoniously dumped Sanchez and merged with the Boys and Girls Club of the Coachella Valley. Sanchez now as Mayor finds himself seated along with his fellow council members trying to put back together a youth program that once successfully functioned without cost to the city.
Sanchez says the goal is to save youth programs while keeping the city from declaring bankruptcy. Funds in the local bank account of the Desert Hot Springs club would have been some help.
At the time the Desert Hot Springs club was disbanded – and after ousting Adam Sanchez – the local organization had over $300,000 in reserves. Those funds were transferred to Coachella Club.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.