The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
City towing fees may spike
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
Parking illegally in a private lot could get more expensive in Fredericksburg if the City Council agrees to let towing companies nearly double their fees.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council will consider raising the maximum fee for trespass towing from $65 to $125, according to a July 2 memo from City Attorney Kathleen Dooley.
The potential increase comes at the recommendation of the city’s Towing Advisory Board.
The board, appointed by the council, has three members: one from law enforcement, one from the towing industry and one citizen representative.
The current fee was established by ordinance in 2003, and the policy hasn’t been reviewed since, according to the memo.
“We basically looked at what is going on in the region and that it was neglected for so many years . Nobody wanted to review it,” said city police Officer Jamie Walker, the chairman of the Towing Advisory Board.
The new fee would be the same as the maximum fee allowed by state law.
The state law also allows for an additional fee of $25 if a car is towed on nights, weekends or holidays. A tower can charge for two of those three scenarios at one time, potentially increasing the maximum fee to $175.
However, those add-on fees would not be allowed in the city under the amended ordinance.
The fee for storing a vehicle after the first 24 hours in Fredericksburg is also proposed to more than double, from $20 to $50 per 24-hour period.
At its May 16 meeting, the Towing Advisory Board also agreed to suggest the following to the City Council:
Require that all storage facilities be secured.
Increase the penalty for towing companies that violate the rules from $1,000 to $1,500.
Require tow truck drivers to photograph vehicles in violation with a time and date stamp on the photo to indicate why the car needed to be towed.
Review the policy every two years.
HOW THE CITY COMPARES
Many Virginia localities do not establish a local maximum fee. Among them: Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, Westmoreland, Louisa, Orange and Culpeper counties, according to the memo.
Instead, these localities use the statewide maximum rate.
Others have fees that are comparable to the state fee, such as Stafford, which allows tow operators to charge $100 plus a $35-per-day storage fee for every day beyond the first 24 hours.
Two companies—Shanks’ Towing and Dominion—have done 85 percent of the trespass towing in the city in the last year, according to the city memo.
There were 1,828 tows in the last year, the memo said, and the top three tow locations in the city are at Eagle Village, Fall Hill Apartments and Forest Village. Most tows occur between 5:30 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Only about 20 percent of Shanks’ business comes from the city, but owner Chris Shanks has been a vocal supporter of raising the city’s rates. He works with about 200 property owners in the city, he said.
He said that in the nine years since the rate was last reviewed, his costs for insurance, fuel, rent and mortgage payments and utilities have increased.
“No operating expense has gone down,” he said. “The only thing that’s stayed the same is the towing rate.”
Shanks said his business already does some of the things proposed in the ordinance, such as provide date- and time-stamped photos.
He said the company also has four trucks with surveillance video systems that capture what each tow truck does.
Shanks and other towers have been working on the proposed changes to the ordinance with Matt Benka, a Richmond-based lobbyist.
Benka emphasized, in an interview, how much lower Fredericksburg’s rate is, compared with other localities in the state that set their own rates.
“I look at it as we are trying to get back to 95 percent of what Virginia localities charge,” Benka said.
Walker, the chairman of the Towing Advisory Board, has been the liaison between the companies and the Police Department.
Every time a car is towed from private property, it must be reported to the Police Department first.
He said he was initially opposed to the fee increase, but said he understands the need for it.
He said that the number of complaints about towing in the city “has gone down in the last year” and is “nothing compared to what it used to be.”
“I have noticed a remarkable improvement in that area,” he said.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413