SALISBURY- A frustrating delay on setting police tow fees was narrowly avoided when the Salisbury City Council voted to mirror Ocean City rates, despite having already agreed to table the issue.
With the adoption of Ocean City police tow fees, a standard tow will be $125. Service calls for things like a jumpstart or gasoline that don’t involve a tow will cost $65. Additionally, a $35 per-day abandoned vehicle fee that isn’t on Ocean City’s books was added.
The desire to change police tow fees in Salisbury involved a lot of back and forth between the city and the industry. What the council wanted to make clear from the beginning was that setting standard tow fees for when companies are called in by the police would not affect the private field at all.
“We’re not trying to regulate the industry for all city-wide towing,” asserted Council President Terry Cohen.
Several proposals were floated around as potential guidelines for Salisbury police tow fees. At first, Fruitland rates were used as the standard.
“Should we adopt Fruitland’s fees because we have contiguous borders?” asked Councilmember Deborah Campbell.
Campbell explained that tows, which crossed the border between the two cities, would be simpler if both areas had the same rates.
However, those fees haven’t been adjusted in a decade. Councilmember Tim Spies pointed out that prices for a lot of other things have doubled or more in that time span.
Campbell suggested slightly increasing the Fruitland fees to reflect inflation in the last 10 years, but the council wasn’t sure it wanted to guess what that number would be.
“I don’t think adjusting these up 30-40 percent will cut it,” said Spies.
Campbell then brought up another nearby area whose rates could be emulated.
“I could reluctantly agree to fees charged by Ocean City,” she said.
Campbell admitted she was reluctant because there are a lot of differences between Salisbury and the busy resort town, especially in the number of police tows every year. While Salisbury generally numbers in the hundreds, Ocean City might surpass that mark just over the summer.
Councilmember Laura Mitchell submitted a list of suggestions for possible adoption, the core of which were the Ocean City rates. Mitchell added a few other items, though, the most notable of which would be a “serious or fatal injury” fee. In the case of violent car crashes, Mitchell felt that tow companies should receive extra compensation when called in by the police. She pointed out that many of those accidents left the car a dangerous wreck, with broken glass and metal and possibly bodily fluids. Spies agreed that the mess could require extra work.
“The only thing about blood in there is that the person towing it needs to be protected,” he said.
However, the council wasn’t sure who would decide what constitutes a “serious” accident and worthy of the extra fee. Councilmember Eugenie Shields remarked that the tow fees were starting to become too complex.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “This is just too much. This will never be right. We’re just trying to regulate and fee everything.”
Shields said there needed to be flexibility in the industry and that the council was heaping unnecessary restrictions upon tow companies. Shields suggested the council only set fees on “the basics,” but Mitchell defended the proposed alterations to the town’s towing laws.
“I did not write the ordinance and I did not rewrite the ordinance,” said Mitchell. “I don’t think the fees are excessive.
She remarked that she’d only added four items to the list in addition to what Ocean City currently regulated.
“I think four things are a lot of things,” argued Shields.
She told the council the process could be made easier. Campbell agreed, saying that it felt like they had “too many things on the menu.”
“We’re supposed to be here for consumer protection,” she said.
Discussion grounded to a halt, with the numerous suggestions trapped in a cycle.
“At this point, I’m not hearing a consensus,” said Cohen, who moved that the issue be tabled until further research could be done.
Campbell asked that they take one last look at the proposals. She stated that every day they didn’t have solid regulations in place was another day where some of the more unscrupulous companies were able to take advantage of customers while honest companies were paid less than they deserved.
Campbell moved that Ocean City rates be accepted, with only the abandoned vehicle fee added to keep things simple. Still, some on the council wanted to put off the discussion for another day.
“I’d like to see this off the table,” said Spies.
In the end, the council decided to move forward with the plan to adopt Ocean City’s towing fee schedule as it pertains to police calls, with the addition of the abandoned vehicle amendment. The council reached a consensus supporting Campbell’s motion.