Resort Council To Consider Tow Rate Hike Proposal

OCEAN CITY — Towing rates in Ocean City will likely be going up after the resort’s Police Commission this week voted to forward a favorable recommendation on the proposed fee hikes to the full Mayor and Council.

On Wednesday, the Police Commission resumed its discussion on the across-the-board tow rate increases proposed by a unified group of industry representatives last month. The town’s code currently sets the maximum rate for a standard tow at $150, a figure that has remained unchanged since 2008, but the local tow companies that work with the town are seeking a graduated, across-the-board hike by as much as 100 percent in some cases.

Following a cursory introduction to the proposed rate increases last month, the Police Commission tabled the discussion in order to explore what other jurisdictions and agencies were doing around Worcester County. Ocean City Police Department Records Supervisor Michelle Monico was tasked with researching what neighboring jurisdictions were doing with their tow rates and policies and Monico reported back to the commission on Wednesday.

What she found out was the town of Ocean City was the only jurisdiction in the county that has an ordinance on the books regulating towing fees. Each of the other jurisdictions and agencies in the county, including the Maryland State Police, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, Ocean Pines, Berlin, Snow Hill and Pocomoke, do not regulate towing fees by ordinance. Instead, market price influences the tow rates in those jurisdictions and the average rate in each comes in at around $325, or considerably higher than the maximum allowed under Ocean City’s ordinance.

“The rest of the county does not set any regulations on their tow fees,” said Monico. “Our tow fees are considerably lower than the market price in the state and the average of the other jurisdictions in our area. We’re the only one that is kind of out of whack with the rates. What they have submitted for consideration is a bit less.”

The local towing industry is recommending an across-the-board rate increase in Ocean City, which would bring the fees more in line with what the rest of the county is doing. For example, a straight tow of an illegally parked vehicle would be increased from the current $150 allowed by the code to $250, which is still lower than the market rate in the other neighboring jurisdictions.

When a second tow truck is needed, the rate would increase from the current $75 to $150, and the rate for just moving a vehicle to the side of the road would increase from $75 to $100. The local tow companies are also seeking an increase in the storage fees. Under the current ordinance, the storage fee is $10 for the first day and $15 for each day thereafter. However, the changes requested by the towing companies would be a straight $60 per day if the vehicle is stored outside and $70 per day if the vehicle is stored inside.

Naturally, there are a variety of different towing scenarios, from a simple grab-and-go of a disabled vehicle or a vehicle illegally parked on a red curb or in front of a dumpster, for example, to DUI tows often in the middle of the night to more complicated accident tows that might require more than one tow truck or other types of equipment.

The towing companies’ recommendations include considerable hikes for the latter. For example, an accident tow would increase from the $150 allowed by the ordinance to the $325, while a DUI tow would increase from the current $150 to $285.

“We’re requesting a little more for accident tows and DUI tows because they require more work,” said Chris Cropper of Cropper Inc. in Berlin. “The accident tows can be messy and complicated. The DUI tows are typically after business hours and usually between midnight and 3 a.m. We have to get a driver out of bed and there is more cost associated with that. While the driver gets 30 percent of the tow fee in a typical situation, the drivers get 60 percent when they have to go out in the middle of the night.”

Monico’s research also revealed another anomaly with Ocean City towing policies compared with neighboring jurisdictions. In Ocean City, the vehicle owner pays the police department and the police department then reimburses to two companies monthly by invoice. With the other jurisdictions and agencies in the county, the vehicle owner or the insurance company pays the towing company directly.

After reviewing the comparable tow rates in other jurisdictions, Police Commission Chair and Councilman Doug Cymek said the tow companies’ requests for a rate hike appeared to be valid.

“I think there is room for some increase here,” he said. “This should go back to a work session with the entire Mayor and Council.”

Mayor Rick Meehan took it step further and suggested the commission should forward a favorable recommendation on the fee changes as requested.

“I think we should make the recommendation to the full council,” he said. “I think we should forward a favorable recommendation on what they requested.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.