LACONIA — Opponents of a request to borrow $600,000 to keep Gunstock Mountain Resort operating until winter were in the minority, but they prevailed when the Belknap County Delegation met Friday morning.
The motion to approve the Gunstock Area Commissioners’ request for authorization to borrow the money fell short – by one vote – of the two-thirds majority it needed.
Nine legislators voted Friday to approve the request and six opposed the motion. It was the first time in Gunstock’s 81-year history that the delegation has refused to approve a revenue anticipation note.
The commission had sought the money to cover maintenance costs for ski lifts, the snowmaking system and the purchase at discount prices of a winter retail inventory for the county-owned recreation area.
Gunstock, although managed by an independent five-member commission appointed by the County Legislative Delegation, does not have the power to borrow money without the delegation’s approval.
Grim-faced members of the commission left the meeting after the vote and are planning to meet soon to discuss changes to the $12.3 million budget it approved earlier this year for the 2108-19 season. Gunstock’s fiscal year runs from May 1 through April 30 of the following year.
The delegation’s action followed a lengthy discussion of the area’s operations, with several members of the delegation expressing support for a call to lease the ski area to a private operator.
Commission Chairman Steve Nix of Gilford said defeating the revenue anticipation note would hamper Gunstock’s ability to do proper maintenance and it would decrease Gunstock’s value if it were ever to be offered for lease.
Rep. Frank Tifton (R-Laconia) said having what amounts to a credit line for Gunstock during the summer and fall, when expenses are high and revenues are low, made sense and he challenged anyone opposing the money for Gunstock to explain how it would help Belknap County, which earlier this year had its credit rating lowered by two notches by Moody’s Investment Services.
“We’re compounding the problem by not having the investments needed to keep Gunstock competitive,” said Tilton.
Several members of the public, including former Belknap County Delegation chairman Alida Millham, Tony Ferruolo of Gilford, and Jan Hooper of Center Harbor, expressed support for allowing Gunstock to borrow the money.
Barbara Howard of Alton, a member of the public, said she was concerned that Gunstock has a profit-sharing plan for employees and had spent $16,500 for 11 Gunstock workers to attend a ski area convention.
Gunstock General Manager Greg Goddard said the so-called profit-sharing is actually money that matches employee retirement contributions to a plan similar to a 401(k). He said the plan is an essential part of hiring and retaining good employees in a very competitive market.
Commissioner Robert Durfee of Laconia said the convention costs were $150 a day, which amounted to $1,650, only 10 percent of what Howard said they were.
Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton) said he thought a lot of misinformation was being circulated and the county would be doing Gunstock a disservice if it didn’t approve the money.
Rep. Norman Silber (R-Gilford) charged that Gunstock was being mismanaged and that Belknap County taxpayers “have been taken advantage of for years.”
He said the numbers in the annual audit reports don’t match up with Gunstock’s budgets and “calls into question the competency of management.”
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) said, “When the weather has been good, the results have been good,” and he supported the borrowing.
Voting against the request were representatives Silber, Barbara Comtois (R-Barnstead), Ray Howard (R-Alton), Valerie Fraser (R-New Hampton), Michael Sylvia, and John Plumer (R-Belmont).
Voting to grant the request were representatives Huot, Fields, Tilton, Marc Abear (R-Meredith), Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), Peter Varney (R-Alton), Charlie St. Clair, (D-Laconia), Peter Spanos (R-Laconia) and Phil Spagnuolo (D-Laconia).
After the vote, St. Clair, visibly upset by the outcome, challenged those who had voted against the revenue-anticipation note to make it a centerpiece of their re-election campaigns so they would find out how unpopular their opposition to Gunstock is with voters.