Trail Funding Reality Check

After completing our Municipal Grant Request for Reimbursement and looked at our financials, I realized that these guys are busy and my emails are long, but I am amazed that nobody has responded. MSA is not pleased at all. It’s interesting to note that the MSA voted to increase their dues by 25% (from $12 to $15) but didn’t feel the timing was “appropriate” for a registration fee increase. Duh.

More Info on Municipal Trail Funding

The Bureau of Parks & Lands’ Snowmobile Program requires a grant application from clubs in order for them to receive payment for any work or grooming that they have performed on their Municipal trail system.

There are 115 of these Municipal Grants administered across the State. The Request for Reimbursement is an actual one that I have recently submitted to the Town Of East Millinocket (even though the Jo Mary Riders is located in Indian Purchase 4, part of the unorganized territories).  When I submitted the form to the Town there were 15 additional pages of supporting documentation. Here’s a brief explanation of the figures depicted on the form;

Administrative total of $291 = 32 hours of Grant paper work @$8/hr + a $35 Corporate Filing fee charge.

Under GROOMING TRAILS you see a number next to equipment hours: 636 and then $43,884.00

We have three big Bombardier snow cats that we bought used from various ski areas in North America, two are 2001 models and one is a 2006. (picture attached).We purchase used ski area “cats” because, even though they are initially much more expensive than a machine designed for snowmobile trail grooming, they depreciate at a much higher rate and can be purchased for substantially less than a comparable trail groomer. Two of these cats utilize 8.3 liter Cummins diesel engines and the other runs a 9 liter Caterpillar diesel. Average fuel consumption is just a little over 6 gallons/hour. The State allows us $69/hour to run the machines. But in reality, they only pay us 70% of that figure, the club is supposed to come up with the other 30%. So for all intents and purposes, we’re getting $48.30/hour to run these big pieces of equipment. The same engine in an excavator, fellerbuncher or loader would command $125/hour in the “real world”.

This winter our three “Cats” groomed a total of 636 hours x $69/hour =$43,884.00 Our fuel bill alone was $15,533.48. Our mortgages payments on two of the machines total $26,000/year.

Under PLOWING PARKING AREAS  you see that we plowed 23 hours for a total of $1380. ($60/hour)
The State likes to provide people with a place to park their trucks and trailers and go out and enjoy the trails. In our case there is a big public parking area that serves as a boat launch facility in the summer and as a “trailhead” parking spot in the winter. We are allowed a rate of $60/hour. Most plowing contractors laugh at that figure as most can make over $120/hr plowing driveways. ($40/driveway x 3/hour) The club does not have a plow truck so I use my truck and backhoe and plow the parking lot all winter. I do not get reimbursed for this even though it costs me a pretty penny each winter. The money (if we receive it) stays with the club. And the best part of it is that 90% of the people who park in the lot do not belong to ANY snowmobile club. We can’t use the big snowcats to plow the lot because their tracks would destroy the surface of the lot and the tracks would also suffer premature failure.

Under MISCELLANEOUS MAINTENANCE there are a bunch of figures:

The first represents 429 hours of manual labor that the State allows us to bill out at $8/hour. For the most part, all of these hours were accumulated by just 4 people. We can’t afford to actually pay them so they are true volunteers. We have just recently tried to reimburse them for their gasoline costs in their trucks. It’s too costly to be a volunteer in this area where our trail system covers hundreds of square miles. The hours represent time spent building bridges, cutting trees and brush, putting up signs, moving rocks and even welding steel support beams for bridges. I wonder where you can find a welder in Maine for $8/hour? Only on snowmobile trails!

The second line shows 238.5 hours of equipment use for a total of $6,682.00. These figures include $3800 for 20 hours of combined excavator/dump truck usage @ $190/hour (hired contractor) and 24 hours of backhoe usage at $60/hour. The remaining $1442 “pays” for 194.5 hours of equipment usage. This equipment includes chainsaws, brushcutters, portable welding machines, generators, ATV’s, snowmobiles and vehicles. In NO CASE does it come close to covering the actual cost associated with running a piece of equipment. $3/hour to run a chainsaw, generator or welder. $5/hour to operate a snowmobile or ATV.
$10/hour to operate a truck. These rates are a joke.

The third line shows a figure of $5,721.63 for “materials”. This number represents what we ACTUALLY spent for lumber to build bridges, for sign backing materials, screws, nails, concrete abuttments for bridges, steel retaining plates, etc.  But remember, we only get reimbursed to the tune of 70%, somehow we have to come up with the extra 30%.

The final tally for all Maintenance is $61,390.63. Add to this the Administrative cost of $291 and you get the TOTAL AMOUNT OF INVOICE  figure of $61,390.63. As I mentioned before the State only reimburses our costs at 70% of what we report. So what we have coming to us is $42,973.45. But hold on, in this case we were told before the season even started that we had a grant valued at $37,000. Our municipal trail system is 66 miles long, $37,000 divided by 66 = $560.60/mile. This “per mile dollar value” is an arbitrary figure that varies greatly from one trail system to another. It’s based on traffic, average snowfall, length of season and other qualifications as determined by the program director. So it all boils down to this;

The Jo Mary Riders showed expenses of $61, 390. But because years ago when the Program was set up, someone decided that the clubs should shoulder some of the expense themselves, so the State will only pay us 70% of our expenses. So we would like to see $42,973. But we had been told (before it snowed) that all we had coming to us was $37,000. So too bad, you only get 60% this year. In defense of the system, we DID know what our grant total was beforehand. But what were we supposed to do, tell all of the snowmobilers on March 1, “Sorry, even though there’s a ton of snow on the ground we can’t afford to groom anymore. We’ve used up all of our funding. Have a nice rough ride.” No, we can’t do that. We are a dedicated bunch of volunteers who know that both resident and non-resident snowmobilers depend on us to provide them with smooth trails to ride on. They paid their registration fee so they’re “entitled” to well groomed trails. As a result of our ongoing commitment to the INDUSTRY, we continued grooming until Saturday night, April 2. We received 16″ of fresh snow on Friday, April 1. And literally hundreds of snowmobilers rode our trails that weekend.

The figures on this Request for Reimbursement are factual, if anything, we under reported some of our costs because we’re dealing with volunteers and they forget to write down all of their time and expenses. We provide a valuable service to the State of Maine and we have NEVER been adequately compensated for what we do. As an example, the State actually hires contractors to groom in four different areas in Maine. The average cost per mile in these areas is around $1800/mile. That’s right, $1800/mile.

The highest reimbursement rate to any snowmobile club in Maine is less than $690/mile. (Some clubs get reimbursed at rates as low as $130/mile.) Can anybody explain why this is happening?

The answer is simple, no snowmobile club will groom these areas and as a result, they have to hire private contractors to groom them. To stay in business, these contractors have to show a profit or at least break even. Thus they charge rates that are commensurate with what earth moving contractors would charge. And rates that normal people would expect to pay. But the snowmobile clubs of Maine have always worked for ‘substandard pay rates’. This needs to change. We need more money.

Like I’ve said before, the vast majority of snowmobilers are willing to pay more to ride the trail systems as long as the vast majority of the increase in fees goes to the trail system. THIS IS NOT A TAX. IT IS A USER FEE. I am not aware of any tax dollars being used in any way to support the trail system in Maine. I am asking you to please consider raising the registration fee for trail riders so that the snowmobile clubs of Maine can continue doing the fine job of maintaining the 14,000 miles that exist in our State. Without the snowmobile clubs, there would be no trail system in Maine. And without the trails there would not be a $350,000,000 positive economic impact. We have been taken for granted for far too long.

I can’t understand why our governing body fails to recognize the vital service that we provide, especially when we do so at NO COST to the State. We have to face the fact that, just like every thing else in this world, our operating costs continue to move upward also.

This topic of funding has been around for years yet nobody has seemed willing to push it. I fought for an increase four years ago and got a whopping $2. Then, against the wishes of the MSA, I fought for another increase the next year and was “rewarded” with a $5 increase. So that brought us to the current $40 registration fee.

Currently, New Hampshire is $64 plus you must join a club, Vermont is $130, New Brunswick is $150 and Quebec is $210. These are RESIDENT registration and/or trail fees.

How are we in Maine able to do it for so little compared to what everyone else charges?? The answer is simple, we can’t. Without a doubt, there will be a small number of people who will complain about any sort of fee increase. However, that number will pale in comparison to the large number of snowmobilers who will be screaming when the trail system starts to fragment and the riding is no longer enjoyable.

Snowmobiling is an economic driver that should be fostered and allowed to develop. Without adequate funding, not only will it not develop, it will wither and die and be proof positive of just another failed industry in Maine. At least then the non-motorized environmentalists will have something to celebrate.

Thank You,
Rick LeVasseur
Chairman, Maine Snowmobile Advisory Council
723-5045

 

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