The Mateel Community Center Board of Directors during a meeting in September 2017 when the budget and debt problems were discussed publicly. – Times-Standard file photo
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On Friday the Mateel Community Center announced that a $30,560 debt was paid to the Sysco Corporation for services at a previous Reggae on the River and the corporation has agreed to return $9,222 in interest and fees to the Mateel.

The issue of the Mateel’s budget woes due to lackluster Reggae on the River attendance numbers in recent years and increased community center expenditures has been a topic of discussion at Mateel board meetings over the last few months but a Jan. 19 Mateel press release revealed that Mateel board president Garth Epling was being held personally responsible for an around $40,000 debt to the Sysco Corporation.

“It was just in the meetings leading up to the event I neglected to read or fully understand that document,” Epling said Friday.

Little did he know at the time that as the signer of the goods he could be held personally responsible for the Mateel’s debt. The January release stated that Sysco intended to file a lien against the Mateel and Epling. A crowd-sourced online fundraiser was started to help cover the debt; by Friday it had raised $9,152 from just 58 supporters.

“It is heartwarming to note the support of the community at this time of hardship in the Mateel Community Center’s history,” the release states.

Epling said he can’t blame Sysco for this and that he should have read and understood what he was signing fully.

“I’m happy that the local Sysco rep reached out,” he said about the interest and fees being given back.

Epling said since the Mateel Community Center has other debts he had to use $30,000 of his own money with the rest donated from the community to pay Sysco back to avoid a lien on himself and the center.

“It’s not only a tough time for the Mateel but a tough time economically for the region,” he said.

Epling said work in underway to address the rest of the Mateel’s debts.

“We appealed for a grant for the Humboldt Area Foundation to get a financial advisor to look at our books,” he said.

Until them the Mateel will continue to operate at bare bones staffing to save money and put on shows already organized to add to the coffers, Epling said.

“The board of directors itself has put in a lot of volunteer efforts,” he said.

One bit of good news is that the Mateel’s second biggest fundraiser of the year will be happening in Benbow on the first weekend of June, Epling said.

“The Summer Arts and Music Festival is going to be taking place,” he said. “That should go a long way to repaying some of the debt.”

But not all of it, Epling added. At a board meeting in October it was revealed that the Mateel was running a debt load of $670,000 due to declining Reggae attendance along with increased expenditures.

The next Mateel board meeting will take place Feb. 20.

Visit mateel.org for more community center information.

Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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