Snowmobile clubs to push for higher registration fees

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 01, 2013, at 5:22 p.m.

Maine’s largest snowmobiling organization hopes to propose the creation of a two-tiered snowmobile registration system to alleviate the economic pressure on the backbone of the state’s $350 million industry, its leader said Tuesday.

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, wants to see the state’s registration fees climb $20 each for residents and nonresidents who fail to register their snowmobiles by Dec. 15. That would mean that residents would pay $60 and the nonresident fee would be $108 for snowmobiles registered after that date, he said.

“We want to encourage early registration so that we avoid situations like last year, where if there is no snow, [snowmobilers] don’t register at all,” Meyers said earlier this week. “Plus, it gets the money into system so that there is a lot more predictability to the finances of the program, because clubs need all the help they can get.”

The MSA is working to get several bills introduced and made into law this spring, Meyers said. The clubs also are going to suggest that the commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry review the entire snowmobile program to see how it can better serve the clubs, he said.

The review resolve is drafted. MSA members are working on the fee-increase proposal, Meyers said.

Almost entirely volunteers, members of the state’s association of 290 snowmobile clubs — plus 2,200 businesses that are also MSA members — groom the state’s 14,500 miles of Interconnected Trail System trails and lesser arteries. Their efforts receive about $4 million in state grants generated annually by snowmobile registry fees and a small percentage of state gas tax funds, Meyers said.

Having volunteers and the cooperation of landowners as the key elements of one of Maine’s biggest industries is, “depending on your perspective, really cool or really scary,” Meyers said.

“The focus of all of our [pending] legislation is to improve the lot of all snowmobile clubs in Maine. We have really been struggling these last few years,” Meyers said. “Our fuel costs increased dramatically, and the way the grant program works, in the best case scenario, clubs get reimbursed for 70 percent of their expenses.”

MSA’s proposed rate increase won’t begin to alleviate the financial crunch snowmobile clubs endure, said JoMary Riders Snowmobile Club leader Rick LeVasseur.

LeVasseur called the proposed increase “a short-term band aid.”

“They may generate another $300,000 or $400,000 or so,” LeVasseur said, “but it won’t last, and it will annoy a lot of people.”

The proposed change, Meyers said, will encourage registrations to occur before the snowmobile season typically begins. This, he said, will reduce the practice most snowmobilers follow of waiting to see snow on the ground before they register.

Last year’s lack of snow led to the registration of about 62,000 snowmobiles compared with the more typical 85,000-90,000, Meyers said. That in turn led to a 10 percent cut in grants given to snowmobile clubs last year for trail and grooming equipment maintenance, he said — money that already doesn’t totally reimburse clubs for their efforts.

“Plus it gets the money into the system so that there is a lot more predictability to the finances of the program, because clubs need all the help they can get,” Meyers said.

LeVasseur said he believes the state can afford to charge much more for registrations, money more in line with what states around Maine charge, while still offering snowmobilers a bigger bang for the sledding buck. He fears that club volunteerism will collapse under the ever-increasing costs and hard work involved with trail grooming.

“Everybody wants to ride, and nobody wants to work so that trails can be opened up,” LeVasseur said.

The state Snowmobile Trail Advisory Council, which LeVasseur chairs, recommended a greater increase in trail fees but their recommendation wasn’t taken, LeVasseur said. LeVasseur said a group of clubs and others are going to approach the Legislature with their own rate plan.

Meyers said that with the average Mainer’s snowmobile being about seven years old, MSA’s board of directors wanted to keep snowmobiling as affordable as possible for Mainers.

“We don’t want to price it out of the market for people,” Meyers said. “Your typical snowmobiler is a family, and really, those are the people who are carrying the program and they also tend to be the people out helping out on the trails, too.”

Even with his proposed increase, “We are a cheap date. We really are,” Meyers said. “Maine is at the low end of the registration system and it is kind of ironic because we do have the highest-quality product.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/01/outdoors/snowmobile-clubs-to-push-for-higher-registration-fees/ printed on August 22, 2014