Drivers who leave their cars where they’re not wanted, such as after-hours at restaurants or for days at shopping centers, will pay more to get them back after an action Tuesday by Statesboro City Council.
The four council members present voted to increase the maximum that tow companies may charge for nonconsensual tows from private property to $150, also the maximum allowed under Georgia law. The cap under Statesboro’s ordinance since 2008 had been $110.
But the city’s attempt last year to lower the local cap to $85 referred to this as the rate “for the first hour,” which created confusion.
Hourly rates are not applied to nonconsensual towing. So at least some towing companies still charged a straight fee of $110, and had an attorney help them ask for clarification.
“I would submit to mayor and council that $110 is the going rate,” said attorney Scott Brannen.
The proposal he presented called for an increase to $150. Brannen said he represented a number of a tow companies. The city’s sign-in sheet indicated that he was there for Gata Recovery, A&P Wrecker Service and Eagle Automotive.
The last time the city’s ordinance specifically set a rate for nonconsensual towing was 2008, Brannen observed.
Then the price list adopted exactly one year ago, June 17, 2014, gave “$85 for the first hour” as the rate for wrecker service for vehicles up to 10,000 pounds. An additional $15 charge was allowed for each additional quarter hour.
This wording suggested “an on-call towing fee, not a nonconsensual tow,” Brannen said.
“This is where the confusion starts,” agreed City Attorney Alvin Leaphart. “Mr. Brannen makes a point that’s valid.”
Nonconsensual towing is when a property owner has someone else’s car towed. It requires a special permit from the state Department of Public Safety. Rates are set on a per-tow basis.
Last year’s ordinance also set a maximum daily storage fee of $20 in Statesboro, while the state’s maximum storage fee was $15 a day, Brannen pointed out. Cities are not allowed to exceed the state maximum.
“I think what attorney Brannen is saying is, we can’t point fingers for past practices due to this very confusing situation,” Mayor Jan Moore told council members.
The towing companies also requested that the city allow a $60 “drop fee,” which is called an operator fee in the ordinance. As Brannen explained, the $60 will be charged instead of the $150 maximum when a car’s owner, with keys and identification, meets the tow truck operator after the car has been hooked to the hoist but before it is towed.
On this, local operators were accepting a lower rate than the $75 state maximum.
Tracy Hart, owner of Brooklet-based A&P Wrecker Service, noted that he brought the same proposal to the council the previous month.
“The state of Georgia says we can charge $150, and if the state of Georgia says we can charge $150, who are we to change that?” asked Hart.
Council members Gary Lewis and John Riggs said they would agree to the $150 maximum.
“What does it cost the city?” Lewis said. “I mean, we’re out of it. … We won’t even have these meetings anymore if we just do what the state says.”
Formally, this portion of the meeting was a public hearing on the ordinance.
If only the state maximums were to be adopted, the council could simply do nothing, Leaphart said. Unless the city sets rates each year, they expire and the rates published by the state Department of Public Safety prevail, he said.
“I don’t mind the city doing something,” Lewis said, “but the city seems to be confused.”
Moore argued for keeping local regulations and a maximum lower than $150. She said she believes that most of the cars that are towed here belong to college students but does not believe that operating a tow company costs as much in Statesboro as in Atlanta.
“You need to take into account what’s fair where you live,” Moore said.
“That may be so, but we don’t know what it costs for these folks to live,” Lewis said.
A council member asked why the state specifically regulates nonconsensual towing. Observing that it involves locking up an asset worth thousands of dollars, Leaphart said that without some limits, tow companies could charge anything.
“It’s a license to take your stuff,” he said.
Riggs said he had heard no complaints about towing from constituents, but wanted to keep a local ordinance.
“I do think we need to keep something on the books for the city of Statesboro,” he said.
The mayor and some council members expressed interest in requiring tow operators to offer certain times on Sundays when owners can claim their cars without paying an additional after-hours fee. This fee can be up to $25.
Suggesting a motion, Moore inserted into the city’s document the $150 maximum tow fee; the $60 “drop fee,” which is labeled an operator fee; and a requirement that tow companies make prearranged claim times available at no added charge between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. This is in addition to 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday operating hours.
Lewis made the motion and Riggs seconded it. Councilman Travis Chance was absent.
Moore offered the wording to reflect the views of council members but still did not approve of the $150 maximum fee, she said later. Authorized in the City Charter as “the chief advocate of policy,” Statesboro’s mayor can suggest motions but not make them and votes only in case of a tie.
“Personally, I think $150 to tow a car in Statesboro, Georgia, is excessive,” Moore said. “I think the majority of cars towed belong to college students, and they’re towed en masse, and I think it’s too high.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.