Readers’ Questions Answered — Trail Permit Increase Necessary

 

October 2016

I’m glad to see you’re reading your Michigan Snowmobile News and this Legislative Column. I know you are reading it because I received several calls about the Legislative Column that ran in the September issue.

Avid riders have questioned why the numbers on the chart that appeared with the recap of last year’s grooming season made it look like some grant sponsors are losing money. In reality, they are not losing money.

When you look at chart these concerns look to be true, but the chart doesn’t tell the whole story of grooming in Michigan.  Some information was left out.

For example it looks like the Seney Snowmobile Association lost a great deal of money last snowmobile season. It did not. Some grants for repairs were not included in those numbers because total costs were not reflected in the total reimbursed costs.

The total costs grant sponsors were reimbursed on any early or late season addendums were not included in the figures used in the chart provided by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Conversely, it looks like some clubs  made a lot of money last season. These clubs did not make money. Total costs didn’t include some of the repairs made under early or late grant addendums.

Overall, all of our grant sponsors are in fairly good financial shape. Last season some of them did have a little bit of a financial  loss and some had a little gain. That is why we do averages for reimbursement costs.

I’m glad that people are looking at this information and educating themselves about the snowmobile program and grooming in our state.  Continue to question what you read.

The Future of Our Sport

There is a bigger issue that all snowmobilers in this state need to be aware of. MSA has completed meetings with the DNR regarding a 10-year budget. We have developed that budget, and things are not looking good for the snowmobile program.

Last season 138,539 trail permits were sold. That’s a five percent decrease in permit sales from the year before. Trail permit sales have decreased every year for the past five years. We used these numbers in that 10-year budget.

At this point in time, we will need to increase the state trail permit fee to $60 to maintain the snowmobile program and smooth snowmobile trails. Increasing the trail permit to $60 will allow the snowmobile program to break even.

The 2016-17 Snowmobile Season

Any trail permit increase will take a state legislator to introduce it and passage in both the State and House. Any proposed increase is at least a year away. The trail permit will be $48 this season. That means that the program will see a shortfall at the end of this season. The program will not fund everything that needs to be done.

Along with grooming, your trail permit dollars pay for all the trails to be brushed in the fall, signed per the DNR specifications, and groomed all winter long. The total cost for all of this was $5.4 million last year. Other costs involved in the program include brushing and signing, insurance, and summer maintenance — bringing the total cost of the snowmobile program to more than $6 million.

Cuts Being Made to the Snowmobile Program

Meetings have already taken place and the first things being cut include bridge work, culverts, and repairs. The only work of this kind that will be done this season is in an emergency situation. Trail reroutes and work on new trails have also been cut from the budget. Cutting these items from the snowmobile program will get us through this season year. These cutbacks will allow for regular grooming this season.

Beyond This Season

Where the big hammer falls is at the end of the upcoming season. There will be zero money left to purchase grooming equipment for the following year. That’s right, ZERO left to purchase grooming equipment.

At the end of every season, we typically have funds available.  In the past there has been around $1.5 to $2 million left in the snowmobile program. That money is used to purchase equipment. That money will not be there at the end of this season.

The Michigan snowmobile program is based on replacing 10-15 pieces of equipment every year. Currently, we have 178 pieces of grooming equipment. Eventually, all of that equipment will need to be replaced. There is currently equipment being used that was purchased in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At end of last year’s budget (Sept. 30),  two pieces of equipment were purchased for use during the upcoming snowmobile season. The two new groomers were awarded to Keweenaw Trail Services and Gogebic Area Grooming. The cost of each piece of equipment was $250,000. In 2015 nine pieces of equipment were purchased, and in 2014, 12 pieces of equipment were purchased. Costs continue to increase.

The fact that we can’t purchase new equipment for even one year will increase the following season’s  repair and refurbishing costs.

How Long Before Grooming Suffers?

My questions  to every snowmobiler —  Do we cut everything else before we cut grooming? When will grooming have to be cut?

Again, based on those 10-year budget numbers we used, we need to increase the trail permit fee  immediately to $60 and increase it again in two years to $75. This 10-year budget and the numbers we used are based on realistic numbers, with a 3 percent yearly inflationary increase.

MSA officers and the Legislative Committee  continues to refine the snowmobile program budget and work to get our legislators to introduce legislation to increase trail permit fees.

Remember your legislators hold the key to our snowmobile future. We are looking for a legislative champion of snowmobiling. We need someone to step up and sponsor a bill proposing the increase. During an election year, it is difficult to get anything introduced and approved. We need to work this fall  to do just that, especially during the three-week lame duck session. A call to action may be necessary. Look to future issues of the Michigan Snowmobile News for updates.

What Is the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Program?

The Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund provides funding to maintain snowmobile trails as part of the designated statewide trail system. Grant funds are available for three purposes.

  1. Seasonal grooming and general maintenance of snowmobile trails.
  2. Special maintenance projects that improve the condition and/or access to trails.
  3. Replacement of equipment used for maintaining trails