City closer to increasing trespass towing rates


Susan Forron, owner of Advantage Towing, speaks during a Gainesville City Commission meeting to discuss a tow rate hike on Thursday.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.

Despite some public concern over alleged predatory towing practices, the City Commission has moved closer to the first significant increase in trespass towing rates in nearly two decades.

At Thursday's meeting, the City Commission advanced a request from tow companies to increase the rate for unauthorized vehicles parked on private property by more than 30 percent. The current rate is $76. The proposal would hike it up to $100.

Tow company representatives and commissioners said the $100 fee would be more in line with peer communities around the state.

A comparison with several other Florida municipalities showed that Tallahassee's rate was $88. Fort Lauderdale, Clearwater, Hollywood and Cape Coral were at $100 and Coral Springs was $125.

Since 1994, the city's trespass tow rate has increased $6. Tow company operators requested an increase last summer, saying the current rate did not keep pace with increases in fuel prices and the other costs of doing business.

"When I look at the peer city prices and see Gainesville at the bottom ... I don't think we have a compelling reason to not allow the rates to go up," Commissioner Susan Bottcher said.

In light of a $6 increase over some 20 years, Commissioner Todd Chase described the proposed increase as "certainly fair."

The City Commission advanced the requested rate hike 5-2, with Mayor Craig Lowe and Commissioner Randy Wells in dissent. The proposed increase will have to come back for a final vote at a future meeting. Under the current language of the city code, it would not take effect until 2014. But a proposed overhaul of the city's towing ordinance could allow any approved increase to take effect immediately after approval.

Two members of the public spoke against the proposed increase, citing issues with predatory towing practices. Collin Thompson, the director of external affairs for the University of Florida Student Government, said there were 800 student signatures on a petition against the increase. He said commissioners should consider whether the tow companies are "good faith partners with the students or more malicious."

This month, Advantage Towing received 10 citations for illegally towing vehicles from the parking lot of the SunTrust Bank on North Main Street during the weekend of the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival on April 6-7. Just before the event, the company signed a contract with the bank to tow unauthorized vehicles from the lot. But the contract had an effective date of April 19.

The company has issued letters of apology and pledged to reimburse the owners of the vehicles towed. Advantage faces the possibility of a suspension from trespass towing activities over the violations.

Advantage was formerly known as Ultimate Towing. When that company faced a six-month suspension from trespass-towing in 2011, Ultimate owner Stan Forron signed over the company's assets to Advantage, which is owned by his wife, Susan Forron.

On Thursday, commissioners said they felt complaints of illegal towing activity were a separate issue from the rate increase under consideration.

"What we have are two separate issues here," Bottcher said. "If we have abuses going on, those need to be addressed. That's a separate issue from raising rates."

Outside the meeting, Susan and Stan Forron also sought to separate allegations of illegal towing from the rate issue.

"One has nothing to do with the other," Stan Forron said. "One is hard-core financial facts. The other is complaints, whether they are legitimate or not."

Gainesville Police Officer Jeff McAdams, who oversees investigations into illegal towing complaints, said the city currently regulates only the rates during the first 24 hours after the department receives the report of a towed vehicle. Fees charged after the first 24 hours and gate or administrative fees are currently unregulated, McAdams said.

In addition to a rewrite of the towing ordinance and the proposed rate increase, the commission is also mulling the possibility of requiring tow companies to purchase and install software that allows the city to track towing activities instead of relying on companies to self-report to the Police Department.

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