Bike Week promoters trying to recover from flow of red ink

LACONIA — Beset with financial problems, the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association has expanded its board of directors, who are seeking to restore the organization to financial solvency and place its operations on a sound footing.

The LMWA was established in 1991 as the Laconia Motorcycle Rally and Race Association at the initiative of then Mayor Paul Fitzgerald and its longtime executive director Charlie St. Clair, with the primary purpose of promoting the oldest motorcycle rally in the United States. The association publishes and distributes the Rally News magazine, solicits corporate sponsors and rally patrons, administers an annual grant from the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development and sells concessions at the event.

The current membership of the board consists of the City of Laconia, Town of Meredith, New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), Weirs Action Committee (WAC), Laconia Harley-Davidson and three businesses at The Weirs — the Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, Half Moon Enterprises and NASWA Resort.

The board became aware of the financial troubles of the association earlier this year and, according to documents obtained by The Daily Sun, the board was still seeking to calculate their extent when it met in August. Tommy Blanchette of NHMS and a member of the financial sub-committee, reported that "the first priority is to determine the actual balances of accounts, payables, receivables, and long-term debt of the Association."

A balance sheet as of June 9, 2014 listed total liabilities of $214,490.96, of which a note payable to Charlie St. Clair represented $124,859.30. Charges against 13 credit cards accounted for another $46,453.71 and an outstanding balance on a loan from Bank of New Hampshire for another $30,000. However, in August Blanchette told the board that the debt to St. Clair was more than $178,000 while the credit card debt, carried at high interest rates, was $60,000.

After the association's financial issues came to the fore, the membership of the board was expanded. An attorney, Matt Lahey of Laconia, an accountant, Paul Simoneau of Gilford and a marketer, Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association were added to the board. Cynthia Makris of the NASWA Resort serves as president of the association.

At the same time, the board agreed to raise the annual membership dues paid by municipalities and businesses, but not the additional three individuals, from $2,000 to $5,000. In June, the Laconia City Council included the increase the 2014-2015 municipal budget and this week Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren advised the Board of Selectmen of the pending rise in dues.

But, when the LMWA met in August Joe Driscoll of the WAC reported that his organization voted not to pay $5,000 but only $3,000. According to the minutes, Makris said that she "believes it is important for each member to be sharing the cost of dues equally." Blachette suggested that it was premature to introduce an increase in dues until the financial statements have been revised and the 2015 budget prepared.

At the same meeting, Blanchette said that retiring the debt to St. Clair should be a priority and that Landers would approach the Belknap Economic Development Council about borrowing at a rate below that charged by the credit cards to lighten the total debt. He also stressed the development of "accounting policies and procedures" as a priority.

The 2014 budget of the association was $432,764. Corporate sponsorships at $211,000 and advertising sales of $100,000 accounted for three-quarters of projected revenues, supplemented by a grant from the state of $30,064, sales during the rally of $35,000, membership dues of $22,000 and donations from Rally Patrons of $16,000. Payroll, salaries, benefits and related expense, of $132,500 from the state, was the largest single expense followed by $60,000 in print advertising, $45,000 in travel, $29,264 in producing the Rally News, and $22,200 in rent.

Blanchette suggested that the 2015 budget should include lowering expenses, retiring debt and collecting receivables. The minutes read "if a budget cannot be created,Tommy stated, then bankruptcy must be visited as a last-resort effort."

This is not the first time the association has run afoul of financial issues. In 2003, when it was called the Laconia Motorcycle Rally and Race Association, three members — the city of Laconia, Greater Laconia/Weirs Beach Chamber of Commerce and Gunstock Recreation Area — resigned their memberships over misgivings about the quality of financial reporting. A year later, after being assured that its concerns had been appropriately addressed, the City Council resolved to rejoin the organization. Neither the Chamber of Commerce nor Gunstock Recreation Area followed the city's lead.

Lakes Region Public Access to pull the plug?

LACONIA — "Rather than crash this thing I'm going to try to land it," Denise Beauchaine, station manager of Lakes Region Public Access television, said yesterday after the bookkeeper called to advise her that only enough funds remained to meet one or two payrolls.

Beauchaine said that the station could go dark as early as next week and surely by the week after without an unforeseen — and unlikely — source of funding. She said that even if funds are exhausted she intends to air the Laconia High School football game on Friday and the Putnam Fund performance on Saturday as well as the religious programming over the weekend, whether or not there are funds to pay her.

Beauchaine said that the board of directors of LRPA, chaired by Chan Eddy of Gilford, were seeking to convene an emergency meeting, but had not scheduled a meeting by press time. The station employs four people in addition to Beauchaine, one full-time, one part-time and two contractors., and has an annual operating budget of about $130,000.

Beauchaine explained that LRPA has been drawing from its reserves to sustain operations. since July 1 when member municipalities entered a new ten-year contract with MetroCast Cablevision. Under the new contract each municipality will operate educational and governmental channels (24 and 26), which broadcast only to the municipality where the programming originates, while LRPA would provide public access on channel 25 airing programs from individuals and organizations from the member municipalities. However, the municipalities, which had contributed to funding the operation of LRPA, withdrew their support. and, at the same time, Metrocast withheld its annual $30,000 grant to LRPA, leaving the station without a revenue stream.

As early as February the board of directors of the LRPA anticipated that its funding would be eroded when the new contract was signed and began drafting a new business plan, with the goal of generating $300,000 in income the first year. Sponsorships from between 50 and 100 businesses at between $1,000 and $2,000 a year were projected to provide much of the revenue with fees for service accounting for the balance. However, money ran short before the plan was pursued.

The closure of LRPA will cloud the future of telecasting the WLNH Children's Auction. Laconia City Manager Scott Myers said that the city will be compelled to seek alternative means of telecasting city council meetings, either on the city's website or through an arrangement negotiated with MetroCast. "It's not going to be a quick overnight fix," he said.

Ironically, while preparing the 2014-2015 muncipal budget the City Council trimmed the recommended appropriation for LRPA from $39,500 to $29,500 in order to reduce the increase in the property tax rate. Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who represents the city on the board of directors of LRPA, agreed to the cut, explaining that the station had embarked on a new business plan.

School District get $1.1 million in additional behavorial and mental health asistance grants.

LACONIA – The school district has been awarded a $100,000 Project Aware grant for professional training over the next two years.

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) Coordinator McKenzie Harrington-Bacote, the federal award that came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be used to train eight people – who will in turn each train those around them in mental health literacy.

She said six of the people will be from the high and middle school community, while two of the people will be from the community partners such as the Laconia Police Department and Genesis who are supporting the goals of the SAMHSA grant.

She said the goal is for the "teach the teacher" model to eventually train 200 people, including parents and teachers, in mental health literacy.

Harrington-Bacote also told the School Board Tuesday night that the school system has received an additional $1-million federal transformation grant to support the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program for professional development.

PBIS addresses behavioral issues at all ages and works to intervene with children who appear to be developing problems with bullying and other disruptive behavior.

The grant last five years and allows the school to hire a part-time behavioral coach at the high school and a full-time behavioral coach for the three elementary schools.

Harrington-Bacote said 13 people will be going to Chicago as part of the training.

Storm temporarily knocked out dispatch for some local police departments

LAKES REGION – Some area police departments that depend on the Belknap County Sheriff's Department for dispatch services experienced interruptions yesterday morning when two of the communication system's towers lost power.

Det. Sgt. William Wright said the early-morning storm blew down some trees at 7 a.m. that caused power losses to transmitter towers on Pinnacle Hill in New Hampton and on Flag Hole Road in Franklin.

"There was no damage to our equipment, but the towers did lose power," Wright said. He said these two towers do not have emergency generators.

Wright said the four Belknap County police departments that do their own dispatching – Laconia, Gilford, Belmont and Meredith – weren't affected, but most of the more rural departments were.

He said there was not a "complete interruption" to service because of the upgrades the Sheriff Department has performed over the last two years as part of a federal Homeland Security Grant.

He said the department is still installing the microwave simulcast system as part of the grant that provided the department with new dispatch consoles and Pinnacle Hill tower.

He said the system was restored within about two hours.