Hostel business off to slow start for Belknap House’s first summer

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The Belknap House, a cold-weather homeless shelter that generates revenue as a hostel during warm months, has seen a lack of paying customers this summer. Organizers are wondering if reservations will pick up over time or if the nonprofit needs to change its operational model.

The building at 200 Court St., which has 19 beds, was empty Thursday and has hosted only about a dozen guests since it transitioned to a hostel on May 21, Executive Director Kathryn Holt said.

“It's not as busy as we had hoped,” Holt said. “It's been kind of slow.”

Belknap House opened on Feb. 28 and got good use as a homeless shelter for people in Laconia and surrounding communities. The idea was that it would morph into a money-making hostel in the spring before turning back into a shelter on Oct. 16.
Income from the hostel would support the shelter.

“That income is not going to be what we had hoped for,” Holt said. “We are having a couple of fundraising events coming up and are seeking donations, sponsorships and grants.”

Colleen Garrity, board president for the non-profit that operates Belknap House, said the lack of guests this summer may be typical for the first months of any new operation in the accommodations industry.

She said it's too soon to say there's a problem with the concept of operating a facility that provides rooms for the homeless over the winter and for paying guests during the summer.

“It's expected to be slow your first year,” Garrity said.

The shelter opened a couple months later than planned last winter due to abatement work for lead and asbestos.

“There was so much emphasis and work toward getting it open,” Garrity said. “After that, we finally started focusing on the hostel piece, and we were probably a little too late in doing that.”

Once the word gets around about the hostel, the proximity it has to attractions and its low price, it may see more success, she said. The rate is $30 per bed. There are six bedrooms, four bathrooms and a kitchen with two cooking stations.

“Time will tell if this model that we've chosen is for the best,” Garrity said. “If it doesn't work, we will make changes.”

She doesn't think potential hostel guests are put off at the idea of staying at a place that serves the homeless for half the year.

“Ninety percent of the bookings are coming through Bookings.com,” she said. “Anybody who is booking through an online travel agency like that wouldn't even know it's a shelter in the wintertime.”

Garrity said the idea of operating as a hostel part of the year resolves two problems: A need for revenue to offset expenses and decreased demand for shelter space during warm-weather months.

Revenue is needed in part to pay a monthly mortgage on the commercial building that was converted into the shelter. The non-profit raised $200,000 to get the shelter opened. Much of the money was used for extensive renovations. A smaller amount was used for a down payment on a loan to buy the $150,000 property.

“We purchased the building and had to put an enormous amount of funds into it to make it habitable and make it safe for anyone staying there,” Garrity said.

“We have a mortgage we have to pay every month, but the idea of a hostel was not just to help cover the mortgage, but to raise revenue to help families in the fall.”

When operating as a shelter, the facility is geared for people to stay no more than three weeks. It takes referrals from welfare offices in Belknap County towns and cities. A family support coordinator works with residents to help them find employment and permanent housing.

Garrity said she would like to see the homeless population eventually decrease to a point that the shelter is no longer needed.

“I would hope there may be a time when we might just open as a hostel all year long because we don't have that many homeless families,” she said.

However, she said there is typically a major upswing in the need for emergency housing starting in October. Rents are high in this region compared to the income most people earn.

Meanwhile, overall homelessness appears to be declining in the state and regionally.

The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness found in its most recent yearly report that the homeless population statewide was down 19 percent over the last four years. In Belknap County, it was down 13 percent.

The Belknap House has two fundraising events planned. A golf tournament is set for Aug. 21 at Lochmere Golf and Country Club in Tilton. A masquerade pumpkin ball is scheduled for Oct. 13 at St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall in Laconia.

Outreach programs providing services to the homeless can be accessed by calling 211.

07 07 Belknap House Holt

Kathryn Holt, executive director of The Belknap House in Laconia, said that their 19 beds have been mostly unused so far this summer, when the nonprofit organization hopes to generate revenue as a hostel to pay for its expenses and programs in the winter, when it operates as a homeless shelter. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Another hole found in county budget

Belknap County commissioners find $135,000 gap in nursing home line; with no action new corrections center is ‘dead in the water’

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners found out last week that another hole exists in the county budget when they received word that the $6.2 million budgeted for Health and Human Services is $135,000 lower than the state of New Hampshire says the county must pay.
The Health and Human Services budget covers the cost of nursing home care for county residents in private nursing homes.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said prior to Thursday evening’s meeting of the commissioners that a request for a supplemental appropriation might be considered.
The issue is certain to come up at Monday morning’s meeting of the Belknap County Delegation’s Executive Committee, which will be conducting a quarterly review of the county budget.
Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) has said the committee will review the budget and has not ruled out the possibility that the delegation may revisit the commissioner’s request for reconsideration of a $229,500 supplemental appropriation.
That request included $136,500 for the Corrections Department and $93,000 for the Sheriff’s Department and was defeated on a 7-7 tie vote on May 22. Vadney after the vote seemed to signal that it would be taken up again in two weeks. But he did not respond to a written request from the commission to reconsider it when the delegation met last week.
Commissioners meanwhile have been reluctant to take action on the hiring of four correctional officers that Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray deems essential to opening the new $8 million Community Corrections Center.
“The project is dead in the water. The corrections center is virtually complete, but we don’t have the funds to staff it,” said DeVoy.
In addition, the county budget already faces a $290,810 shortfall on the revenue side as it included funds from HB413, which would have had the state pay part of the county’s retirement costs, but was not included in the state budget which was approved late last month.
This year’s budget process has been a tangled one, going back to last November when the first draft of the budget which the commissioners approved ended up having to be reworked because it included funds from the county fund balance as revenues twice.
Commissioners DeVoy and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) eventually agreed to a proposed $28,034,331 budget which would have seen the amount to be raised by property taxes revert to the $13,837,174 the same amount it was in 2015. In order to keep the increase to that level, the two commissioners agreed to use $2,183,657 from the undesignated fund balance, which would have increased the amount to be raised by taxes by 6.31 percent.
But members of the delegation raised questions about the information they were receiving from commissioners after they announced in late January that the fund balance was expected to be $850,000 higher than was projected just two weeks earlier. Commissioner DeVoy said that the increase was due to a recalculation by Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett of operational savings last year, which were originally projected at $250,000, but were expected to reach $1.1 million.
The skepticism on the delegation about the accuracy of the budget worksheet numbers they were receiving led to commissioners defending Shackett by saying that she was doing the work of three people and supporting her recommendation that the county hire a human resources director for $65,540.
That was one of the first positions cut from the budget by the delegation once it started a line item review of the budget in late January after commissioners objected to a proposal by Vadney that the delegation simply set a bottom line number for the budget and let the commissioners decide where to make cuts.
When the review was more than halfway completed and the delegation had identified less than $200,000 in cuts, Vadney switched tactics. After saying the commissioners were dragging out the process so that the delegation couldn’t act in time and the commissioners budget would be adopted by default, he allowed delegation members to introduce motions which would establish a bottom line.
In early March the delegation voted 9-6 to cut the proposed $28 million county budget by over a half-million dollars and to maintain the amount to be raised from country taxpayers at same level as last year, $12,963,440.
The action came on a motion offered by Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith) to cut $545,804 from the budget, reducing it to $27,487,463, some $200,000 lower than had been proposed by Rep. Roy Howard (R-Alton) the previous week, a move which had been rejected by a 7-6 vote of the delegation.
Abear’s budget cuts $126,736 from the Sheriff’s Department, eliminating overtime, one deputy and one dispatcher, and cut $44,562 from the Belknap County Nursing Home for an activities position.
It also cut $40,000 from the dietary department at the Belknap County House of Corrections and over $100,000 for the hiring of four Department of Corrections officers.
It also reduced outside agency funding by over $160,000. The Belknap County Economic Development Council was cut from $75,000 to $1, Genesis Behavioral Health was reduced from $31,425 to $1, the Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center from $11,000 to $1 and Community Action Program funding was cut by $13,000 with cuts for family planing. The Belknap County Conservation District was cut from $92,400 to $60,000.
The delegation waited until the following week before voting to accept Abear’s revenue numbers, which included $290,810 from HB 413, which the county will not receive.
Delegation members who supported Abear’s budget have maintained that there is enough money in the overall budget to allow commissioners to hire four corrections officers by moving funds around. But commissioners say the money simply isn’t there and have said that they will have to consider stopping work which was planned on the current jail and moving some prisoners to other counties at a cost of $34,500 a month.
The latest date at which work can be stopped and the present jail still able to hold most prisoners is Aug. 15.

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Courting the jet set at Laconia Airport

07 06 Marv Everson at Laconia Airport

Marv Everson, manager of the Laconia Municipal Airport, stands in the recently renovated airport lobby. The airport has seen an increase in jet traffic since improvements to the facility were completed, and further improvements are planned. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Improved facility seen as benefit for local economy

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Recent improvements at the Laconia Municipal Airport, combined with its setting at the heart of the Lakes Region, have made it an increasingly favorite destination for pilots and the people they serve. Also increasing is the role the airport plays in the region’s economy.
Helping fuel that growth is a major increase in the number of corporate and private jets using the airport, which now accounts for 7 percent of traffic in and out of Laconia, according to Lee Avery of Sky Bright, one of two businesses providing aviation-related services at the airport. He said that arrivals of turbine-powered airplanes have grown from 944 in 2009 to 1,428 last year, a 52 percent growth in eight years.
Marv Everson, who manages the airport, traced the increasing traffic to the ongoing recovery of the economy and low cost of fuel. He said business executives and seasonal residents account for the largest share of those traveling to the Lakes Region by either corporate, private or chartered jets.
“With the swing in the economy,” he remarked, “they seem more willing to spend the money.”
Everson said that the increasing number of people who are getting to know Laconia Airport prompted the Laconia Airport Authority to renovate the main terminal to create a more welcoming atmosphere. Both Sky Bright and Emerson Aviation, the airport’s other aeronautical service firm, also renovated their offices.
“It’s one of the nicest facilities this far north,” Avery said.
Paul Gaudet Sr., owner of AutoServ, agrees with him. “It’s a huge advantage to us and our business.”
Gaudet, who has a pilot’s license and also has a pilot who flies company personnel, said his business uses the airport on a weekly basis.
“Having the airport this close allows us to transport key management to auctions weekly and get them back at their desks the same day so they can complete what has to be done that day. I used to lose managers for two and three days at a time when I sent them to auctions. The way we do it now is we meet at the airport and my pilot takes them early in the morning and gets them back by 5:30. It also allows us the ability to get to real estate holdings in other states as well,” he said.
“I think Laconia’s up at the top in a lot of areas,” Gaudet said. “It has great instrument approaches so you can fly in and out when the weather isn’t as good as you’d like to see it. It’s on top of any funds available for improvement, so it was able to add to the runway, allowing bigger planes to take off from Laconia and go as far as the West Coast.
“You go there on the weekends and see the jets coming in for the races, or people who vacation on the lakes arriving. During the winter, they’re flying in and out to ski and get up into the mountains,” Gaudet said.
“Since I started in 1988,” Avery said, “the actual jet traffic has grown at least tenfold, and maybe more. There’s a lot of activity, and it’s a great resource for the local community.”
Emerson Aviation has been at the airport for 41 years, and Linda Emerson said the majority of their customers are area residents whose summer homes lie as far away as Conway. Although there is an airport in Fryeburg, Maine, it has a shorter runway, making Laconia, with a runway of nearly 6,000 feet, the closest alternative.
More improvements are in the offing. The airport is currently in the second phase of a $245,000 seal coating and runway crack sealing project and is conducting a $194,000 environmental assessment project which will identify trees on adjacent properties which will have to be removed as they extend into the airport’s air space.
The authority has applied for a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to reconstruct the old north-south taxiway (Echo) and increase the space available for aircraft parking. The project, scheduled for 2018, will also greatly improve direct access to the runway from taxiway-adjacent lots, which the authority hopes to lease to aircraft owners and businesses for construction of new hangars.
“We’re hoping this will encourage airplane owners to build new hangars,” said Everson.
It is the largest capital improvement project at the airport in more than a decade. Ten years ago the airport rebuilt and extended its mile-long main runway and built a new taxiway for $8.5 million.
Linda Emerson said Emerson Aviation has two big hangars and is building a third, much larger one to accommodate the larger airplanes that do not fit inside the current hangars.
“We hope that will help us regain some of those we’ve lost to Portsmouth or Manchester,” Emerson said.
She explained that, because the airport is bounded by wetlands, it cannot use chemicals to clear ice from the runway. Plows keep the runways open and airplanes can come in on 20-degree days when the sun is shining, but the pilots want to get the planes under cover until they’re ready to take off again. A hangar also allows a crew to de-ice an airplane before takeoff.
Sky Bright also has a 12,000-square-foot hangar and plans to build a second one later this year or early next year so airplanes can remain inside and ready for use.
Everson noted that while traffic is heaviest between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, off-season is increasing, with the private schools in the region — New Hampton School, Brewster Academy, Tilton School and Holderness School — representing a significant share of it. He said parents fly private jets to ferry their children to and from school as well to visit them during the year.
Land leases account for nearly 70 percent of the Airport Authority’s income, amounting to more than $250,000 of the $340,000 income projected for the fiscal year which just ended on June 30. The authority showed an operating profit of nearly $90,000, or 26.5 percent of its income.
Each year the airport is eligible for $150,000 in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for qualifying projects and uses its reserve funds to pay its five percent matching share, with the state paying five percent. The airport currently has over $500,000 in cash reserves, which will increase by more than $150,000 when the sale of surplus land to the Belknap County Sportsmen’s Association is completed.
The airport is a self-sustaining entity and is located in Gilford on land owned by the city of Laconia. It is governed by the nine-member Laonia Airport Authority, which by statute, is headed by the mayor of Laconia. All final decisions on the use of airport property must also be approved by the Laconia City Council. The last time local tax money was used for the airport was 10 years ago when both Gilford and Laconia contributed $50,000 each to the $450,000 local match for the $8.5 million runway project, which was 90 percent federally funded.

 

07 06 jet at Laconia Airport from 9 2016

A private jet sits parked on the tarmac at Laconia Municipal Airport. (File photo)

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