By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
TILTON — The New Hampshire Snowmobile Association will be able to reinstate online memberships as a result of reaching an agreement with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office this week.
“We’re excited because we’ve had online membership services for years, and they’ve been down for almost six months during this period,” said Executive Director Dan Gould, referring to complaints the state had received about the process.
The Snowmobile Association did not see the complaints, but its executive board and board of directors voted to shut down the membership portal after learning of allegations that its procedure for online sales violated state antitrust and consumer protection laws.
The association had developed its online club membership portal in 2015 to provide an easy way for people to join their local snowmobile clubs. The clubs decided to charge unified dues of $35 which included membership in the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association. The association remitted $25 to the local club, keeping $10 plus a $2 transaction fee for each membership processed.
Jen Foley of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division explained that the unified dues created some sticking points for consumers. The local snowmobile clubs all had to charge the same rates; consumers were forced to join both their local club and the NHSA without the benefit of choosing one or the other; and the process did not ensure that snowmobilers understood the eligibility requirements for obtaining discounts on their snowmobile registrations.
On the last point, Foley explained that state laws provide a $30 discount on registrations for those who show proof of membership in a snowmobile club. The online membership process did not make it clear they would be eligible by being a member of a local club or the association alone.
“The messaging was the issue,” she said.
The Snowmobile Association met with both the Charitable Trusts and the Consumer Protection divisions to develop a plan for providing the service in a manner that met the objections. The result was an “assurance of discontinuance” that spells out how the clubs and the association can work together for online membership sales.
Historically, the document notes, all local snowmobile clubs have joined the NHSA, but each club operates as an independent entity and, until the establishment of unified dues, each club set its own membership dues.
Under the new agreement, signed on Tuesday, clubs with membership in the Snowmobile Association will regain the ability to set their own membership dues but will have access to the online membership platform hosted by the NHSA. The clubs also will have the option of providing their members with NHSA benefits such as Sno-Traveler magazine, news blasts, educational seminars, and up-to-date information on snowmobiling.
The NHSA cannot solicit or assist in setting club membership dues, and cannot require NHSA membership or participation in the association’s online portal. It also will maintain written policies and procedures to ensure that its online membership sales program conforms to the agreement.
“Ultimately, this agreement allows the NHSA to once again offer online memberships which will enhance a club’s ability to sell their memberships with less work and greater outreach,” Gould said.
Beth Horvath-Palmer, president of the association, said, “This agreement opens many new doors for the NHSA and its member clubs,” adding, “The snowmobile industry is critical to the New Hampshire economy, with an economic impact in excess of $586 million. It is imperative that we strive to preserve and enhance the snowmobile industry as a whole.”