By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Rep. Russ Dumais (R-Gilford) was appointed to a five-year term on the Gunstock Area Commission by his fellow legislators on the Belknap County Delegation Monday night.
His appointment came at a meeting at which Delegation Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) told legislators that no agreement has yet been reached on a memorandum of understanding between the commission and the delegation, which expires at the end of 2016 and provides for $175,000 per year payments by the county-owned recreation area to county.
"If no agreement is reached, there's no more MOU," Tilton told the delegation.
Dumais has been one of the legislators representing the delegation in those discussions with the commission, which was established in 1959 and removed authority over the day-to-day operations of the Gunstock Recreation Area from the Belknap County Commissioners and placed it in the hands of a five-member commission, whose members are appointed by the county delegation.
He replaces Commission Chairman John Morgenstern of Gilford, who had applied for a third five-year term on the commission. Other candidates included Bill Quigley of Gilford, who had been director of marketing and sales at Gunstock Mountain Resort for 10 years, and Dr. Wayne Domin of Meredith, a physician with Caring for Women in Laconia with 36 years of experience in the Lakes Region.
Dumais received eight votes and Quigley and Morgenstern each received one vote. Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont) abstained from voting, maintaining that the county should not be in the ski business at all.
Members of the delegation involved in the negotiations have pressed for Gunstock to increase its annual payment to the county, citing support extended to Gunstock during financial problems it experienced in the early 1990s which resulted in county taxpayers having to pay for bond issue costs which normally would have been paid from Gunstock's profits. The Gunstock Area Commission does not have authority to borrow money and must seek approval from the county in order to finance its projects, with the county bearing ultimate responsibility for the payments.
Tilton said that a memorandum of understanding was first reached in 2001 between the county and Gunstock which provided for payments of $150,000 per year, to the county and that it was increased to $175,000 a year in 2011.
Brain Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) said that the delegation has been looking to negotiate an acceptable plan going forward which would increase the amount paid by Gunstock to the county from its enhanced profits in recent years in order to reduce the amount raised by taxation.
Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) said that "taxpayers are still on the hook for a couple of million and need to be made whole" and said that he was concerned abut Gunstock competing with privately owned businesses.
Morgenstern said that during his time on the commission the resort has doubled its revenues and made investments in summer attractions which have enabled it to generate additional earnings which have offset bad winter, like last year when total revenue from all operations, including skiing, dropped to $9,096,039, down by over $2.35 million from the previous year. Net revenue for the year was a negative $1 million, forcing the use of reserve funds in order to maintain operations..
He said that the commission has been willing to negotiate a new MOU which is reasonable but needs to build up its depleted reserve funds in order to provide stability for its operations. Gunstock has a goal of $1 million for an operations reserve fund and $500,000 for capital expenses.
Morgenstern said that he was confident that in three or four years Gunstock should be able to substantially increase its contribution to the county.
Dumais said that he is hoping to bring a different perspective to the commission and cited his experience in the ski business as general manager for the Alpine Ridge Ski Area and Alpine Slide, as well as having been a selectmen in Gilford during the time Gunstock experienced financial problems in the 1990s.
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