Metro

Plow operators say state owes them millions

A plow cleared snow on Route 20 in Marlborough early Wednesday. Some plow contractors said they’re frustrated by lengthy waits for payments from the state Department of Transportation, and will no longer work for it.
Bill Sikes/Associated Press
A plow cleared snow on Route 20 in Marlborough early Wednesday. Some plow contractors said they’re frustrated by lengthy waits for payments from the state Department of Transportation, and will no longer work for it.

Snow plow contractors are angry that they are being forced to wait months for payment from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation — so angry that some have decided they will not work with the agency anymore.

“It’s really disheartening that we’re going through what we’re going through right now because we work very, very hard and nobody’s getting paid,” said Matthew Frazier, president of the Massachusetts Snow and Ice Contractors Association.

Frazier said contractors are owed at least $27 million for plowing, and estimated that Wednesday’s storm would add another $3.5 million to the bill.

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The Transportation Department has exceeded its $43 million budget for snow and ice removal, spending about $61 million as of early this week, officials said.

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The rest of the money to pay snow and ice removal contractors will have to come from the state Legislature, which typically provides a retroactive influx of cash to cover a deficit.

But that means that plow owners will wait — perhaps until summer — to receive what is owed to them.

Michael Verseckes, a Transportation Department spokesman, said a bill filed last week with the Legislature will allow the agency to spend up to $93 million for snow removal. If necessary, another piece of legislation would be filed at the end of the winter to cover the costs of any snow spending that exceeds that amount.

The problem, Frazier said, is that the snow removal compensation clause is bundled with more controversial issues that often prompt extensive debate on Beacon Hill. That means it often takes months before the legislation is passed and the Department of Transportation is free to send compensation to the contractors.

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In recent years, the state has passed annual laws that allow the Transportation Department to spend an additional $50 million for snow removal on credit — but that law was not included in this year’s budget.

Verseckes said his agency has paid all of the invoices up until the end of December, and are working to make partial payments to vendors who worked in the first two weeks of January.

But Frazier said he knows of some contractors who have not received any payment since the beginning of December. And when they wait for payments, he said, they wait a long time. Last year he received his final check in July.

“I know I’m going to get paid,” Frazier said. “But I don’t know when.”

Some snow removal contractors have stopped working for the state, instead providing their services to municipalities and private entities, because they have grown tired of the wait for compensation — a trend that could be responsible for a recent shortage in snow contractors.

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Larry Ray, owner of Lorenzo D Corp., is one of those contractors.

‘All the towns pay within three weeks, and they’re on a tighter budget than the state.’

LARRY RAY 

When he received his snow removal paycheck in August last year, he said, he decided that he was done.

“I’m one of those people who refuse to put up with their shenanigans anymore,” Ray said. “All the towns pay within three weeks, and they’re on a tighter budget than the state when it comes to public works.”

Other plow owners, Frazier said, are not able to continue operating through the rest of the winter, as they have run out of cash to pay for fuel, equipment repairs, and staff.

“This isn’t Coca-Cola plowing snow. These aren’t Fortune 500 companies,” Frazier said. “These are small operations with seven or eight employees. . . . Contractors are tired and they are broke.”

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.