Grand Mesa Nordic Council Board Meeting
June 20, 2023
Board: Dan Tille, John Traylor, Christine Noel, Marguerite Tuthill, Susie Attaway, Tom Ela, & Larry Gruel
Board Members Absent: None
GMNC Staff: Christie Aschwanden, Melissa Newell, Beth Klein, Debbie Cheesman
Guests: Doug Johnston, Joe Ramey, Read Hunker, Jane McGarry, Melody Searle, Tim Caster, Greg Randall, Hege Randall, Laura Johnston, Tina Wilson, & Tim Carter
The meeting was called to order at 6:03 pm and Tom Ela read the GMNC mission statement.
- Opening Statement. Tom introduced Christine and Dan who read the following public statement:
The Board would like to address and clarify some of the incorrect financial and operational information that has been sent around to members of the GMNC community.
Here are the facts: The GMNC has zero debt. None. We are currently holding more than $360,000 in cash and short-term investments in our operating accounts. GMNC’s total operational assets are nearly $440,000. This is entirely separate from the $800,000 that we have raised so far for the Skyway building project. The Skyway building accounting is kept separate from our operating accounting and all building funds are kept at separate financial institutions from our operational accounts.
In the season that just ended, the organization spent $15K more than we received in income, incurring an operating loss, and we had to use some of our cash reserves to make up the difference. This was driven primarily by two things. First, the grant funding we had expected from the City of Grand Junction did not come through. After giving us $16,000 the previous year, last year they gave us $0. This left us with a $16,000 hole in our budget. On top of that, our bill for summer equipment maintenance came in $3500 above what we’d been quoted, and then in this extraordinary snow year that was very difficult on our equipment, we faced unusual repair and maintenance costs that left us $12,000 over what we’d cautiously budgeted for snowcat expenses.
This budget shortfall is concerning, but it is not a crisis. The GMNC has been steadily putting money into reserves to cover unexpected shortfalls like these, and we were able to manage this overage without incurring debt or depleting our reserves.
Emails being sent around to the GMNC community state that the GMNC operated with a budget deficit for the past 2 seasons. While that is true for this past season it is technically incorrect for the 21/22 season.
For the 21/22 season, our operating revenues were $251,962.40 and our operating expenses were $185,400.30. In other words, we took in $66,562 more in income than we spent in expenses during the ED’s first year. Our 21/22 tax return does show a -$9,624 net loss for the year, for two reasons. First, we took a depreciation, or cost allocation, of $28,007 on our equipment. Second, in the 20/21 season we received a $50,000 donation specifically for the Skyway building project. After communicating with the Forest Service about this project over many months we realized that we were many steps away from being able to utilize this donation. We returned the $50,000 donation in the 21/22 season because we were not comfortable holding the funds until we were sure we could proceed with the project. (Now that we are moving forward with the project, the same donor has given us that original $50,000 back plus an additional $750,000.)
Emails being sent around incorrectly state the budget deficit for the 22/23 season was -$47,032.29. Our actual operating loss was –$15,246.12. When taking into account other income and expense items (things such as interest income and depreciation), it results in a net loss of -$9,823.96. Please note that this is prior to the books being closed and the tax return prepared, so these figures may change. There was a significant error on our draft Profit and Loss statement for year-end which was sent out in error for the May board meeting. It indicated a fixed asset purchase of $37,208.33. This was for the acquisition of 2 snowmobiles, the amounts for which belong on the Balance Sheet. This error was corrected prior to the publication of our Annual Report.
We are doing everything we can to ensure that we don’t have a shortfall again in the coming year. The 2023 budget forecasts a balanced budget for the year, and we will be monitoring it closely. Current forecasting puts the GMNC 23/24 budget at a net income of $29,495. The Board takes its fiduciary duties seriously and we are dedicated to ensuring GMNC’s financial stability.
Our core function is to provide grooming for the trails and as such we have steadily increased our grooming and operations budget year over year from $32,582 in the 19/20 season, $47,271 in the 20/21 season, $74,688 in the 21/22 season, and $112,357 in the 22/23 season. This represents an overall increase of 245%. This past season our groomers received substantial raises and we invested in 2 new snowmobiles.
Because so much of the concern that’s being expressed seems to target the Executive Director position, we want to lay out the facts regarding how and why the GMNC hired its first ED and how the salary was determined.
The GMNC has been a volunteer-run 501c3 nonprofit organization since its inception in 1990. Volunteers have always been the core of GMNC and that will continue. However, the organization has grown significantly since its early days with an all-volunteer staff driving a snowmobile with rudimentary grooming implements.. We now have almost a half million dollars in assets,(our 2022 990 asset number is $492,443), not counting current funds for the future Skyway Cabin, and annual revenues in excess of $275,000. This year, we surpassed 1,000 memberships.
Simply put, the labor and knowledge required to run this organization has outgrown what volunteers can reasonably be expected to give. We’ve seen this in the string of board members burning out over the past four years. For GMNC to continue to serve its members and meet its mission, the organization needed to bring on professional staff.
In fall of 2020, the board members began informal discussions around hiring an ED, and in the winter of 2020/21 the board formed a committee consisting of current and past board members as well as members of the GMNC community to explore that possibility. The committee was tasked with determining whether an ED was needed, and if so, to develop a set of job duties, research potential salaries, and form a plan on how to integrate the ED into the organization.
In addition, members of the board independently communicated with other cross country ski areas nationwide with similar organizational structures to ours in Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and California to find out what impact that an executive director has had on their organizations. Board members also had many quite extensive conversations with other non-profit ski areas on the western slope on topics including ED pay scale, how many hours an ED works in each season, and how the transition from a volunteer run organization to a professionally run organization went.
The committee concluded that an ED was needed based on the amount of hours that our volunteers were being continually asked to give to keep the organization running and help manage the significant growth it was experiencing. The committee recommended to the board that we form an ED hiring committee to officially start the hiring process. The hiring committee included 3 board members and a member from the GMNC community at large.
As one step of the process, the then-GMNC treasurer conducted a financial analysis of GMNC’s projected revenue and expenditures out to 2027 to help the Board determine an ED salary that was both sustainable and within the industry range for an ED of a Western Slope non-profit.
As another step in the process the board also conducted an audit of tasks that each Board member had been doing as well as tasks that other GMNC volunteers were doing to help further define the ED’s job. This audit determined the ED would be required to work anywhere from 1300 – 2000 hours over the course of a year, breaking out to 15 to 25 hours a week from in the summertime, 30 to 40 hours per week in the fall and spring, and 40 to 50 hours a week in the winter. The first two years of having an ED on staff has shown the Board that the actual hours have ended up being closer to 30 to 40 hours in the offseason and 40 to 50 hours in the high season.
The job advertisement that the board created had an extensive list of duties and responsibilities. I will share it with anyone who wants to see it. The position was advertised as a full-time, year-round job at a salary range of $50,000 – $60,000 with bonus potential. In May 2021, the job advertisement went out locally to the GMNC membership and nationwide to various Nordic ski publications, ski areas, and ski clubs. The board had 15 applicants and the hiring committee moved forward with initial interviews with 4 of the applicants and had multiple final interviews with 2 of them. The hiring committee recommended that we hire Christie Aschwanden and the board voted and confirmed that choice in late June 2021.
Christie started her job in July of ’21 and within the first 3 months on the job increased grant funding from both Mesa and Delta counties and negotiated with the Forest Service to postpone a logging project that would have closed down almost all of our early season skiing in November and December that year.
A few of her other accomplishments over the past 2 years so far include:
- Re-established a positive working relationship with the USFS
- Wrote a 30-page Master Development Plan to submit to the USFS
- Significantly increased donations and grant funding
- Increased business support for GMNC
- Secured new grant funding to run programs such as our free ski clinic and family ski programs.
- Increased communications with our membership via in person interaction, newsletters, and social media
- Produced the first annual report in the organization’s history.
- Initiated discussions with the Forest Service about creating new trails.
The GMNC’s relationship with the Forest Service is incredibly important to the organization in order to successfully operate on our trail system. This relationship requires a large amount of time and effort. Christie has engaged in regular communication with the FS from the start, and this engagement will only become more important as the GMNC grows.
One of the items in the emails being sent around that needs correcting is the jump in ED salary from the 21/22 budget year to the 22/23 budget year. The GMNC ED contract is a 12 month contract. Christie signed her contact in mid July of 21, 2.5 months into our budget year. The 21/22 financials only represent 9.5 months of a 12 month contract. The 22/23 financials represent a full year of her contract. She did not receive a huge bump in pay, she received the full amount of her contract.
Christie’s first year convinced the board of the potential for professional staff to improve GMNC’s operations and to help manage the extreme growth the organization was experiencing. She had done a lot, but told us there was much more that could be done if she had more hours in the day. The board agreed and directed her to hire an assistant. She hired Melissa Newell in the fall of 2022 to manage volunteers and events. Melissa accomplished a lot in her first season, including recruiting a total of 78 volunteers, staffing 17 membership tables over the winter, recruiting and training a group of 31 Trail Ambassadors, helping with fundraisers, and substantially increasing on-site donations. Membership continues to grow thanks to her efforts.
The Board stands behind the work Christie and Melissa are doing. GMNC conducted an end of season satisfaction survey this spring and received heaps of praise for them and the job that they are doing. The board also received regular feedback from GMNC members expressing appreciation for their efforts.
- Public Comment Period. The Board opened up the meeting to public comment.
Tina Wilson and Tim Carter shared their concerns around the Executive Director and Membership Coordinator salaries, staffing the new building, and grooming for next year.
Joe Ramey shared his experience as the past Board President and his role in, and in support of, moving GMNC to a professional organization.
Greg Randall had trouble joining the audio and after repeated failed attempts to join the audio, the meeting proceeded in respect of everyone’s time. Greg was invited to share comments later in the meeting if his audio was able to connect.
- May Minutes Approval. John motioned to approve the May minutes as submitted, Susie seconded, motioned approved unanimously.
- Last Month’s Financial Dashboard. Christine reviewed the financial dashboard included in the Board packet.
- Executive Director Report. Christie reviewed her Executive Director report included in the Board packet. Details she highlighted include:
Fundraising Update – Christie reviewed the pre-planning she is doing to fundraise for the building operational costs. The Gates Family Foundation grant came through as did the Western Colorado Community Foundation. Christie is pursuing multiple grants: Boettcher, Anschutz Family Foundation, El Pomar.
USFS Update – Christie reviewed the work she is doing to maintain a strong relationship with the USFS as they move through their leadership transition.
- Public Comment.
Greg was later able to join the audio and shared his comments on the Board’s financial stewardship and perceived disconnects in financial reports made publicly available. His points are summarized below:
- He began by giving a summary of his resume and his history of being a GMNC member for 30 years.
- Concerned admin costs are too high and that the annual report itemized admin expenses into multiple categories, felt the intent was to hide admin costs.
- Concerned about the financial reporting and believes GMNC is hiding money and moving dollars between budget line items from meeting to meeting. He pointed to the spreadsheets shared prior to monthly Board meetings.
- Questioned the Board’s need to adjourn into executive sessions after Board meetings.
Jane McGarry shared her appreciation for the GMNC staff and Board for their professionalism and hard work.
- Events Coordinator Report. Melissa reviewed her Events Coordinator report included in the Board packet. Melissa is beginning to work on the silent auction to accompany the kick-off party and the fall fundraiser. She is recruiting a silent auction committee to assist with this work. She has also reached out to the Spring Gulch Executive Director to figure out how they work their ski-a-thon in the hopes GMNC can replicate the event.
- Building Update. Dan provided an update on the building process. The updated estimate is expected from the contractor by the end of next week. This estimate is needed to proceed with the review and approval process with the USFS.
- 2023/2024 Budget. Christie presented the final version for Board approval. The Finance Committee reviewed it during their meeting last week and approved it. Christie shared the 23/24 budget is a conservative budget that leaves GMNC with a net income and room for unexpected events. Tom clarified CERF, which is a restricted fund to replace equipment, but funds can be utilized for emergency circumstances with a vote from the Board. He asked if the use of CERF funds to cover snowcat repair expenses was within the utilization parameters of CERF. Christine explained the repair costs fall within the use parameters and the $5,000 in the budget is to cover snowcat experiences accrued last year but will be paid during this fiscal year. John motioned to approve the 2023/2024 budget as presented, Marguerite seconded, motion passed unanimously.
The GMNC will meet in person at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta on July 18th at 6pm.
Board then moved into Executive Session at 7:35 pm.