“Welcome to the craziness of Belknap County,” began Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, before urging the NH House Municipal County Government Committee to reject a bill that would vest authority over the budget of Gunstock Mountain Resort — and with it effective management of it – with the Belknap County Convention.
Lang was the last of eight who spoke against House Bill 1078, which was supported by two its four sponsors — Reps. Norm Silber , R-Gilford, and Ray Howard, R-Alton, during a hearing that ran nearly three hours.
Owned by the county, Gunstock is a financially independent and self-sustaining enterprise, best known as a ski area while offering a variety of recreational activities during the rest of the year. It is managed by the Gunstock Area Commission, a five-member board appointed by the county convention – whose members are the elected state representatives in Belknap County – in accordance with the enabling statute enacted by the Legislature in 1959.
The Gunstock commission manages and operates the resort, but “shall have no power to commit the county of Belknap to any obligation or liability whatsoever.” Likewise, to borrow, the GAC requires the vote of four of its five members as well as a two-thirds majorities of both the county convention and county commission.
But, HB 1078 would treat Gunstock like any other county department and give the convention authority to reduce or revise the budget recommended by the Gunstock commission. Above all, to transfer funds from one line to another within the Gunstock budget to address unforeseen circumstances would require the approval of the convention.
Silber explained that, unlike the budgets of other county departments, which undergo close review by the convention and its executive committee, Gunstock “sets its own budget in its own way without any input from the convention, without any approval from the convention and without any review from the convention. There is no oversight.” He allowed that Gunstock reported a healthy profit last year, but asked “what happens when it’s not such a good year?”
Silber offered examples of what he called the “outrageous problems with the finances of Gunstock.” He said that after ending 2021 with $6 million in cash assets, Gunstock paid bonuses to “top management,” including CEO Tom Day, who “even without his cash bonus makes more than Governor Sununu.” He also questioned a capital lease of $402,300, which he said was a way to borrow without seeking approval from the convention.
In reply, Rusty McLear, a member of the Gunstock commission, reminded the committee of the straitened plight of the Belknap County Nursing Home, adding that the convention “doesn’t know how to run a nursing home and is not running it well.” As for Gunstock, he said simply, “let the people who know what to …….