By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The proposed Belknap County budget for 2017 projects that there will be $175,000 in income for the county from the operations of the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Resort. But there is no guarantee that the county will receive that money because a memorandum of understanding, which specified that amount of money going to the county, expired at the end of 2016 and has not yet been renewed.
Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton), who has been representing the Belknap County Delegation in its discussions with the Gunstock Area Commission on a new MOU, told his fellow legislators in budget discussions earlier this month that there is no agreement at this time and recommended that revenue be left out of the budget.
Belknap County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said he felt that the revenue line should remain the budget and pointed out that the delegation would have a lot of leverage over the commission when it comes to them later this year seeking a line of credit to fund its start-up operations for the next ski season. Gunstock can only borrow money with county delegation approval.
Sean Sullivan, chairman of the the five-person board appointed by the delegation to oversee the operations of Gunstock, said that the commission is willing to negotiate the amount to be paid to the county but has made no offer yet and is waiting to get a firm number from the county delegation negotiators.
"We're willing to talk, but we want to hear some specifics from the delegation. We're not going to negotiate with ourselves," said Sullivan. Former Commission Chairman John Morgenstern, who was replaced by Russ Dumais of Gilford in December, had said that the area needed to look at building up its operating fund and capital fund reserves before committing to any new level of funding.
The delegation, meanwhile, has seen members like former Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) call on Gunstock to increase the amount paid to the county to a $400,000-to-$500,000-a-year level, based on recent improvements and additions to Gunstock's year-round offerings, which have increased profits realized from those operations.
Sullivan points out that Gunstock is looking to recover from a difficult ski season last winter in which the number of skier visits dropped by one-third and income dropped by $2.1 million, with about half of that loss experienced during the Christmas vacation period, normally Gunstock's busiest time of the entire ski season.
Last winter Gunstock was open for 93 days and had 117,648 skier visits, compared with being open 121 days in the winter of 2014-15 and hosting 181,090 skier visits. It was the poorest ski season in recent memory according to Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock
Net operating loss for the year was $954,145, compared with a net operating profit of $495,904 for the previous year. Total profit center revenue for all operations, including the summer months, was down from $11,210,774 to $8,824,561, with total operating expenses declining by over $900,000.
The 2017 budget adopted by the Gunstock Recreation Area Commission projects 170,000 skier visits this coming winter with $12.1 million in total revenues, including summer operations, and a net profit of $1.3 million from all operations.
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