GILFORD — Many of the Belknap County legislators were not surprised when the Gunstock Area Commission told them last week that the county-owned recreation area doesn’t owe the county any money this year.
“It’s basically the same calculation I made on the back of an envelope back when the delegation was talking about this earlier this year. It certainly didn’t surprise me,” said Belknap County Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith).
In a memo sent to all members of the county delegation last week, Commission Chairman Steve Nix of Gilford said Gunstock has $290,000 in accumulated funds available, far less than the $2,616,907 that would trigger the transfer of excess money to the county.
The delegation voted, 8-7, in March to invoke a provision of a 1959 law to ask Gunstock to turn over any money on hand at the end of its fiscal year that is in excess of 25 percent of the average gross income of the preceding three years. That does not include money required for the payment of outstanding bills or debt payments.
The commission’s statement was also no surprise to Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia) or Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), both of whom said that the brutally cold weather of mid-January made them realize that Gunstock wouldn’t make enough money during the ski season to realize a profit.
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) said that he, likewise, realized early on during discussions about Gunstock that the recreation area wouldn’t have enough money on hand to meet the threshold for making a payment to the county.
Rep. Norman Silber (R-Gilford), who in March introduced the resolution to invoke the provisions of the 1959 law, said he doesn’t agree with the commissioners’ calculation on the amount of money it owes. He said the law requires that it be based on audited funds on hand at the end of Gunstock’s fiscal year on April 30. Gunstock submitted a list of unaudited funds.
Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), who voted with Silber, said he more or less agrees with the numbers provided by the commission. Sylvia says it shows him that Gunstock is in a weak position financially, which strengthens the case that he and others have made that the county should lease the ski area to a private organization, just as the state of New Hampshire has done with Mount Sunapee.
That lease, originally held by the Mueller family, was negotiated in 1998 and expires this year. In recent years, it has amounted to $550,000 a year, and the state has used that money to support the operations of state-owned Cannon Mountain Ski Area and state parks that do not generate profits.
The lease will now be renegotiated as part of the proposed sale of the Mueller property to Vail Resorts, a Colorado-based ski industry giant that owns many ski areas.
Lang said he is not opposed to a discussion of the possibility of leasing Gunstock, but he wants a concrete proposal that demonstrates that the lease will be beneficial for the county.
Until he sees that, he said, he supports having the Gunstock Area Commission continue to operate the ski area, and said he thinks the commission has done a fine job of making Gunstock a four-season tourist attraction that is not totally dependent on skiing revenues.
Spanos said he doesn’t like the idea of leasing Gunstock at all.
“We could end up losing the area and all the benefits it provides to the county if we lease it to someone and they end up going under. It’s too big a risk to take with something as important to the area as a tourist attraction. All the small businesses in the county are helped by having Gunstock here, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that,” said Spanos.