SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council scraped proposed changes to police towing fees last Thursday after learning some of the alterations would technically be illegal.
“This should be allowed to die and then start over again,” said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell of the towing ordinance.
Richard Parsons, owner of 56th St. Towing, agreed.
“It’s against free enterprise,” he said of the current plan.
Parsons felt that the direction the council was headed with regulations on towing in the city, specifically towing in situations where the police were involved, was stifling to towers.
“People have a right to make a living,” said Parsons, who added that the council would “open itself up for a lawsuit” if it did not rescind and go back to the drawing board with the tow ordinance.
Fred Scheler, owner of Henry’s Wrecker Service and past vice president of the Towing and Recovery Professionals of Maryland (TRPM), backed up Parsons’ claims. He added that, not only was the council’s original proposal unfair for towers, it was bad for those being towed as well.
“They’re still not totally protecting consumer’s rights,” said Scheler. “There are not enough teeth in it.”
The proposed ordinance included fees similar to what Ocean City in neighboring Worcester County uses, such as a $125 basic tow and a $65 fee for service calls such as jumpstarts. Additionally, the council had added a few extra items to the list, such as the inclusion of a $35-a-day abandoned vehicle fee.
While that was meant to help tow drivers stuck with cars, Scheler asserted that the council was only making the situation “muddy” by attempting to set the fees themselves.
“They haven’t asked our opinion on it,” said Scheler.
He explained that the council had not consulted with the towing industry as deeply as some other municipalities, such as Prince George’s County and the city of Fredrick. He report that, in the places that had worked closely with TRPM representatives, everyone had made out well.
“We’ve done this before … It’s been a win-win situation,” said Scheler.
After learning of the possible issues with the proposal, the council was quick to drop it.
“We need to go back to the drawing board,” said Councilwoman Eugenie Shields. “I want to make sure that everybody is being treated fair.”
Mitchell agreed and stood by her earlier suggestion that the proposal be wiped clean.
“There are some significant issues with the ordinance,” she said, admitting that they were in conflict with Maryland law.
No one on the council made an effort to keep the original proposal on the table. However, the question of what kind of ordinance could be crafted to replace it still needed to be addressed.
Shields suggested the council work with Scheler and the TRPM in drafting a new set of fees and regulations.
“They’re the experts in this,” she said.
Council President Terry Cohen didn’t question Scheler’s experience or ability, but did ask if he had ever worked in areas with similar conditions to Salisbury.
“We’re not a high volume towing situation,” she explained.
“We did the same scenario in the city of Frederick,” Scheler assured her.
He suggested that a towing advisory board be considered for the near future. The board would be comprised of citizen, police, and towing representatives and would help keep channels of dialogue open between all of the groups that would be affected.
“There’s a representative from each industry,” said Scheler.
Additionally, in the future, any complaints in relation to police towing or fees could be taken straight to the advisory board.
Shields recommended that the council look into such a board, since she felt it would solve a number of the city’s problems. Scheler also asked that the council keep in mind that police towing was a lot of work for tow drivers.
“We have to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he stated.
Not only that, added Scheler, but drivers had to be available “on a moment’s notice” which often meant during the middle of the night. He also noted that the average tow truck costs around $75,000 before expenses, and that there needed to be a safety net in place to make sure that a driver that responds to a call for a police tow is compensated no matter what.
“The tower is guaranteed money,” he said.
“A lot of tows we don’t get paid for,” agreed Parsons.
While drafting a completely new ordinance will take some time, the council felt putting in the extra work for a set of regulations that everyone could be happy with would be better than forcing an unpopular proposal through.
“I think the value of getting it right is much higher,” said Shields.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” agreed Scheler.