A change this summer in the state’s payment policy for road-side mowing has upset some contractors who said they relinquished their agreements because they no longer could afford to do the work.
While the state doesn’t have all the machinery it needs to complete some projects, it does have set rates to rent equipment and to pay people to operate the tools. The exception until this year was for mowing rental agreements that help keep roadsides cleared for motorists’ visibility.
“For some reason, for everything but roadside mowing there [was] a statewide rate set,” Randy Gray, Maine Department of Transportation regional maintenance supervisor in Bangor, said Wednesday.
After speaking to vegetation managers for each DOT region, Gray said he learned that “the prices were all over the board, from $20 to $60 [an hour].”
A flat rate of $40 an hour to rent an 8-foot mower was set, but Gray said not everyone who had rental agreements with the state could afford to mow for that price and several people backed out, including Vance Lambert of Charleston.
“He’s not the only one that’s opted out of mowing this year,” Gray said.
Lambert had a rental agreement to mow the sides of the road from Route 191 to Route 46 in Eddington, down to Ellsworth and then up Route 15 through Bucksport into Bangor, East Corinth and Greenville. Under the agreement, Lambert expected to be paid slightly more than $110,000 for the season. But rental agreements aren’t considered binding contracts by the state.
Lambert said the state’s change of pay scale made it impossible for him to do the work.
He had leased more than $200,000 of equipment from Dorr’s Equipment in Bangor that had to be returned and he had to lay off a crew of six people.
“It’s too bad, because especially this year them people were counting on that work,” he said. “I hired those people and gave my word. When I agreed with the state, we shook hands. They can say what they want about those paper contracts, but you give your word and you keep it.”
Lambert said he was counting on the mowing work to pay the bills, but instead had to scramble to find work welding to make ends meet.
“Those people down in Augusta are supposed to have integrity,” Lambert said. “They don’t.”
Gray said the rate change was necessary to keep budgets in line.
Each of the eight DOT regions has a limit for roadside mowing.
“When you’ve spent that money, you’re done,” he said.