City OKs increase on tow rates
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 3:11 p.m.
Starting in January, parking illegally in Gainesville will get a bit pricier.
Gainesville city commissioners Monday voted 4-3 to increase the maximum rate that can be charged by roam towing companies in the city from $76 to $84, but stopped short of guaranteeing an annual increase.
Ultimate Towing, a Gainesville-based company, requested a maximum rate of $90 in September, but the number was trimmed by the city's Public Safety Committee. The increase, the first the city has approved since 2003, is necessary for towing companies to meet rising costs, including higher fuel and insurance prices, said the company's attorney, Katherine Smaha.
"We tried to look at whether there's a rational basis for recommending a rate increase and we came to the conclusion that there probably is," said Commissioner Ed Braddy, one of the commissioners who drafted the report recommending the increase.
In roam towing, also known as trespass towing, fleets of trucks patrol properties that have contracted with their company and tow any illegally parked vehicles. The practice is often a lightning rod for controversy, and the commission and the Gainesville Police Department often receive complaints from people who feel their cars were towed unfairly or that they were treated rudely by roam towing workers.
Concerns about the practice flared up most recently when Ultimate Towing removed 35 vehicles from a lot that apparently did not have appropriate signage during the University of Florida-Mississippi State University football game. After discussions with GPD, the company agreed to reimburse the vehicle's owners and has thus far been in contact with about two-thirds of them, said GPD Capt. Ray Weaver.
Given concerns about the practice in the city as well as the high volume of roam towing, some commissioners said they could not support an increase.
"On a per capita basis here, the business is brisk," Commissioner Warren Nielsen said. "We have a higher level of sensitivity to what happens here."
The commission also debated, and rejected in a 5-2 vote, a plan that would have automatically adjusted the maximum roam towing rate every year to match the rate of inflation, with a maximum increase of 2 percent each year.
Several commissioners said taking the issue out of the commission's hands would impede the ability of city government to curb abuses by roam towing companies.
While GPD has the authority to ensure that lots using roam towing have appropriate signage and can help redress some complaints, the industry is for the most part regulated by federal and state laws.
"The only thing the City Commission can do in terms of the towing industry or roam towing, the only authority we have, is to set the fee," Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said. Commissioner Jack Donovan, who voted in favor of the proposal, said the automatic increases would keep the commission from having to debate future increases.
Later in the day, Student Government Lobby Coordinator Thomas Philpot said the decision was "unfortunate, but it was encouraging the vote was so close."
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or email@example.com.
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