AUGUSTA — Jay Colby, who has worked as a toll collector for the Maine Turnpike Authority for 32 years, said he has never seen motorists so angry.

Infuriated by news stories of high salaries and lavish travel spending at the turnpike authority, a few motorists are venting their anger at turnpike authority workers, including maintenance crews and toll collectors, he said.

“We have essentially done nothing wrong. We are just doing our jobs,” said Colby, 60, who works at the toll booth plaza at the southbound exit in Kennebunk.

Sheila Baucom, a shop steward for the turnpike authority’s 250 full-time and part-time toll collectors, said some people have thrown coins at her and made “nasty” comments that imply she makes too much money.

They also sarcastically ask for gift certificates when they pay their tolls, she said.

Gift certificates were one of the issues that led to the resignation last month of the authority’s former director, Paul Violette.

A review of agency’s books by a legislative oversight agency found that the authority had distributed $157,000 in gift certificates for hotels and restaurants to numerous groups but did not keep records of the transactions.

Baucom said she worries that the verbal abuse will increase as the result of today’s hearing at the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, when lawmakers question Violette and turnpike officials about the gift certificates and spending during business trips.

“I guess the public thinks the toll collectors are making out on this, and we are not,” said Baucom, who works on the southbound side of the toll plaza in West Gardiner. “We are just collecting the tolls and turning the money in.”

Rick Barra, the authority’s director of fare collecting, said the abuse is unfair.

“What’s bothering the toll collectors more than anything is that they are the face of the turnpike, and they are being implicated because they are there on the front lines,” he said.

Barra said he is proud that he has not received a single complaint that a toll collector has responded inappropriately to the verbal abuse.

Baucom said some of the anger is a result of a report the Maine Heritage Policy Center published last summer that listed the 2009 salaries of Maine Turnpike Authority employees.

The report noted that the highest-paid toll collector earned $76,200 in salary and benefits, including overtime, holiday pay and shift differential for working nights.

Baucom said that being a toll collector is a good job but not as lucrative as the public believes.

Toll collector starting pay is $16.23 per hour. Top pay is $19.35 per hour.

The shift differential is an additional 60 cents for hours worked between 4 p.m. and midnight, and 90 cents for hours worked between midnight and 8 a.m.

Peter Mills, the turnpike authority’s new interim director, said he is purposely not using his E-Z Pass device because he wants to pay cash and meet the toll collectors.

“They seem to be bearing up quite well, which is to their credit,” he said.

“My concern is that I want them to feel that things are being changed and the turnpike needs to establish a new image. That’s my job. That’s not some burden that falls on them.”

Tom Bell — 699-6261

[email protected]

 

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