Tensions Flare As Towing Ordinance Passes

SALISBURY – The city’s towing ordinance was not put to rest this week without a fight as tempers flared when a last-minute change was suggested.

After two years of refining a towing ordinance concerning police tows, or calls for a tow service by the police department, the City Council voted unanimously to pass the law defining a schedule of fees and charges applicable to vehicles towed as dispatched by the police department.

The maximum towing and storage fees are $160 for an accident vehicle tow, $80 for a disabled vehicle tow and an emergency relocation tow and $135 for a impound vehicle tow.

Other fees include standby/waiting time billed in 15-minute increments. After 16-minute waits for $65, winching of a vehicle is $110, storage of a vehicle beginning at 12:01 a.m. following the tow is $50, an administrative fee for accidents and impounds only is $30. If there is a snow emergency plan in effect, there can be $30 charged, and the release fee for a vehicle for afterhours only at the towers discretion is $55.

Before the ordinance reached its final vote before a room full of tow company owners, Councilwoman Deborah Campbell offered one last change on the fee schedule by removing the $30 administrative fee all together and Councilman Tim Spies second the motion.

“My motion is based on my belief that the work associated with this is a cost of doing business,” Campbell said. “Your staff is there to do these things anyway and the fee is not appropriate.”

Councilwoman Eugenie Shields did not agree with the amendment.

“I think this last hour of removing it from the towing ordinance is just awful,” she said. “We are trying to do this so we can get it off our plate and then there is something else wrong with this ordinance.”

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell pointed out that the administrative fees go beyond paperwork. It also includes working with insurance companies as well as vehicle owners and families plus much more.

“We have come a long way,” Mitchell said. “We went from a whole list of fees that accumulated around the state and further and dwindled it down … and now we have a last-minute lob to remove a fee. This is not something we just cooked up and threw out, there has been a lot of back and forth that has gone into this to make sure we are offering the consumer protection that we were after and helping out the police department in reducing the number of towing companies on the list but at the same time not putting the towing companies out of business so we have somebody to call.”

Gary Pusey, owner of Gary Pusey’s Quality Cars in Fruitland, came forward to assert the towing ordinance had become unfair.

“You want us to work for nothing and I am sick and tired of it,” he said. “To be honest with you, I think it disgraceful that the City of Salisbury, three members of the council, has some kind of agenda … I am just really fed up with the actions and the attitudes and the mentality of some of the folks on this council. I am so sorry for the town of Salisbury that we have what we have. There are two or three of you that have good common sense, keep it. Some of the people on this council I think are educated beyond their intelligence.”

Kenny Mills of Mills Quality Cars stood up to say that eight tow companies he had talked to in a days’ time had said their city bills have been cut in half due to the new fee schedule.

“We need that $30,” he said. “We are not trying to make a living just on the city, we are just trying to get our fair share.”

Campbell responded by explaining why the towing ordinance was examined in the first place. She said the council has received documentation and complaints from consumers in the city relative to police tows.

“We have seen evidence that there has been abuse of the consumed,” she said. “This legislation was ready to move forward a number of months ago and then this work group started meeting and the work group was heavily influenced by the industry and that is fine that they had input but their input in my mind cannot outweigh what I think is fair and just for our consumers.”

Council President Terry Cohen added that the city has heard from consumers who have walked away from towing companies with outrageous bills.

“We know there are problems in the industry and we would hope the players in the industry will help us with the not so good players in the industry, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to work on this tow list and will be looking to work with the police chief possible on our fees and that may hammer things down a little bit,” she said.

Regarding the amendment, Cohen said Campbell was justified in her motion due to the feedback of the consumers and agreed to both parties’ arguments but her vote was to go with the towing ordinance as is.

“I am willing to go ahead and give this a try and see what happens with the feedback we get from the public on whether or not situations occur with our police tows … if there is still problems we will be back to fix them,” she said.

The council voted Campbell’s amendment down and after an editorial change voted unanimously to approve the towing ordinance in second reading.

“I think this is a good opportunity to find out how this is going to work, to lay the ground work for the work the police is going to be doing, and also to look at whether or not it has any bearing or if we should go toward any general regulation of the industry,” Cohen concluded.