Commission Forwards Tow Ordinance Changes To Council

OCEAN CITY – Clarifications and housekeeping matters relating to the town’s towing ordinance highlighted this week’s meeting of the Ocean City Police Commission.

On Monday, Ocean City Police Department Capt. Mike Colbert presented commission members with a resolution adopting an administrative fee for towing reimbursements.

The new addition, he said, would allow the department to implement a 10% service charge for towing companies that don’t collect their reimbursements within 90 days.

“Companies make the tow, turn in their paperwork and they ask for reimbursements that we verify. We release the car, get money from the owners of the vehicles and then give a certain about of that back to the tow company …,” he explained. “What we’re asking is that we adopt an administrative fee if the tow companies don’t ask for reimbursement after 90 days.”

Colbert told commission members the proposed resolution resulted from the department’s recent experience with a local tow company.

“Last year we had a tow company that didn’t ask for reimbursement for their tows for the whole year, and they made a ton of tows,” he said. “It was well into five figures we returned to them … It took us a while to go back and verify we actually owed it to them.”

While the town’s towing ordinance requires tow companies to ask for reimbursements within 30 days, Colbert said the companies wouldn’t be charged the administrative fee until the 90-day mark was reached. In addition to the administrative fee, Colbert introduced a second resolution updating towing procedures to reflect the new fee.

“In any case, if they don’t do it within 90 days, we’ll still give them their money but will charge 10% of the cost of the tow,” he explained.

Council President Matt James, commission member, questioned why the 30-day requirement wasn’t enforced.

“If the 30 days comes up, and they haven’t requested it, can we just tell them oh well, you didn’t do it?” he asked.

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury disagreed.

“We do hold people’s hands a lot, but they are legitimately owed the money …,” she said. “I think a 10% service charge will compensate us for us having to go back and help them fill out their paperwork.”

Councilman and commission member Peter Buas questioned why the administrative fee was introduced by resolution and not by ordinance.

“How is everyone going to get notice of this update?” he asked.

Colbert noted that tow companies would be informed during the application process, which is conducted annually. Stansbury added that a resolution would expedite the approval process.

“We changed the tow ordinance two years ago to allow you do it by resolution because we were having to do two readings and publication and it was getting a little lengthy …,” she explained. “We’re trying to get away from setting fees by ordinance.”

With no further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to forward the resolutions to the full Mayor and Council with a favorable recommendation.

Colbert also presented the commission this week with an ordinance amendment involving towing ordinance complaints.

“This is a piece of paper that needs to be filled out every time a tow company tows off a private lot under the blue sign,” he explained. “We tightened this form up to a degree because we had an instance of a single tow company excessively dealing in predatory towing.”

Last year, the commission voted to uphold Police Chief Ross Buzzuro’s decision to suspend a tow license held by a local tow company after a criminal investigation into the company’s operations allegedly revealed nearly 50 criminal and civil violations. Colbert said the company would reapply for its license this year, and that the department was seeking changes to the complaint form.

“One of the things this does is tighten up the form, which completely lays out what the requirements are,” he said.

One of the proposed changes, he said, is a requirement for property owners or managers to take a picture of the unauthorized vehicle being towed.

“What we’re really trying to prevent is the tow company doing something unlawful,” Stansbury added. “Generally speaking, if you own a property and you really want something towed, you’ll make sure to get a picture.”

Colbert said the proposed changes were ultimately written to clarify the rules and prevent predatory towing.

“With predatory towing, they would just go in, see a blue sign and tow a car that they thought shouldn’t be there, when in fact they are supposed to get, in writing, a signature from a representative of the property and actually be called by them …,” he said. “It basically requires that a property owner or their representative be present and make the call and sign this paper with the tow company.”

After further discussion, the commission also voted unanimously to forward the ordinance amendment to the Mayor and Council with a favorable recommendation.

“There are a number of changes, but in essence the changes kind of tighten up the rules,” Colbert said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.