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Longview officials mull tow rate increase, but wreckers want more

By Jimmy Isaac
Aug. 24, 2011 at 10 p.m.

It is Longview's first proposed rate increase in nearly four years for non-consensual tows, but towing companies say a 10 percent raise falls flat.

Tonight, the City Council might amend local ordinances and increase fees that towing companies may charge customers whose vehicles are towed after an arrest, wreck, citation or other event in which a non-consensual tow is needed.

Assistant City Manager Chuck Ewings is asking for a $12, or 10 percent, increase on light duty tows to $132; and a $30, or a 10.9 percent, increase on heavy-duty tows to $305.

"After four years, that is all they are offering to us? That's nothing," said Robbie Duncan, owner of Duncan's Towing on West Loop 281. He said fuel costs have increased 36 percent since Longview's last rate increase.

"Since fuel has gotten so high, $12 is not a lot of extra money," Duncan said.

Ewings, through city spokesman Shawn Hara, said Duncan complained about fees that were too low but did not provide information other than the percentage of cost increases. No information about how the increases directly affect the current rate were presented by Duncan, which led city staff to make the 10 percent recommendation, Ewings said.

"This translates into a 30 percent increase in the fee since 2007," Ewings said.

Billy Goodman, owner of Goodman's towing service on Jaycee Drive, performs non-consensual tows in Kilgore and Gregg County.

The city of Kilgore sets its light duty tow fee at $150, compared to $120 in Longview, he said. While he wishes Longview would propose a $30 rate increase to match Kilgore, Goodman said he would settle for Longview allowing towing companies to charge extra for certain services.

Towing companies must charge $120 for light duty tows or $275 for heavy duty tows no matter the circumstances, Goodman said, including at wreck sites where the tow operator helps clean up debris from the roadway or has to pull a vehicle from a ravine. Goodman believes allowing tow companies to charge extra for those services would suffice for a rate increase.

Duncan agreed with Goodman, adding, "If you got arrested, it is the same (fee) as if (the vehicle) was upside down and in a creek. I get no more for the call."

Duncan said an issue he considers bigger than the rate increase is the location of storage lots for companies.

The city of Longview uses a rotation of towing companies for non-consensual tows. Some of those companies operate storage lots in Gladewater, while other companies operate their offices and storage lots in separate locations.

Motorists whose vehicle is towed by Goodman's, for example, must pay towing fees at Goodman's Jaycee Drive office, then pick up their vehicle several miles away at the company's storage lot on Estes Parkway.

Duncan said he has worked in Shreveport, Bossier City, Tyler, Marshall, Waskom, Kilgore and White Oak where those cities regulated storage lot locations, including mandates that the lots must be within those cities' boundaries.

Duncan paid $1,000 to an attorney to draw up a draft proposal to make such changes in Longview, and he presented the proposal to Assistant City Attorney Terry Jackson, Duncan said.

City Council members last approved a rate increase - of 20 percent - for non-consensual towing in October 2007. At that time, Duncan lauded the rate increase but asked that the city institute a contract system with towing companies.

Ewings said the city did receive information from Duncan's personal attorney, but it has received no information from attorneys representing the local towing association as the city requested.

Council member will not be able to discuss Duncan's request at tonight's meeting because the agenda involves merely fees for non-consensual tows.

As for having a single contract provider, Ewings said staff met with towing companies in 2007 about the issue. Duncan's request would have eliminated the city's current towing company rotation and "was not supported by the towing companies," Ewings said.



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