Council bumps tow fees, keeps current regsStandard rate will rise from $150 to $250, with town taking $50 for admin costs
(March 31, 2017) The Ocean City Council will be staying in the towing regulatory business, at least for now, as it voted Tuesday to raise the cost of a standard tow from $150 to $250.
What it will do next year, after the development of the new Public Works complex forces the city to close its 65th Street impound lot, remains to be seen.
Until then, however, the new rates for the tow and impound lot storage will be in effect.
Of the $250 tow fee, Ocean City would receive $50 as an administrative fee.
A steep increase in impound lot storage at $50 per day was also passed. Under the 2008 ordinance, storage started at $10 a day and increased to $15 an additional day. Drivers would also be charged impound fees per calendar days, so someone who had a car towed at 10 p.m. and picked it up the next morning would be charged for two days.
Earlier this month, the council seemed to be leaning toward repealing the ordinance and allowing the state law to regulate the business. But after comparing the state and local laws, City Solicitor Guy Ayres reported that Maryland allows municipalities to set tow rates, but they must be more stringent that what was established in state law.
Another motivation to get out of the towing industry was the low return the city got for the effort. Including the cost for right-to-tow stickers, administration fees and storage costs, the city took in $302,365 in revenue, wages for security guards and payments to the towing companies brought the net down to $17,439.
Since the security guards are included in the Public Works Campus plan, which involves installing at gate at the facility’s entrance, their salaries would still be included in operating expenses even if the impound lot is moved off-island.
Industry members have objected to the council’s idea of getting rid of the 65th Street impound lot. Chris Cropper of Cropper & Sons Towing told the council that it would be a tremendous burden on both the towing companies and motorists to have vehicles towed to private lots.
“It’s convenient to ride the city bus to get their vehicle with an hour-and-a-half turnaround time. With this, they would have to take an Uber to Berlin at $20 and take them two to three hours depending on the time,” Cropper said.
He also argued that there were multiple places to put a new lot without encroaching on 65th Street.
Delmarva Condominium Managers Association President Joe Groves presented the council with 47 responses from members that were against Ocean City repealing regulations since several high-rises have private parking.
“It’s a great management tool for us, to be able to tow that vehicle off the parking lot if they don’t pay, and it only works if you have the impound lot on the island,” Groves said.
Councilman Wayne Hartman admitted that he came to council believing that repealing the ordinance would be the best course, but he was convinced that this matter needed further discussion.
“Fortunately, we have time to do that since it’s [the lot] impacted next year,” he said. “It’s a no brainer to go on with business as usual and to pass a resolution to increase rates.”
Councilman Dennis Dare agreed with Hartman, but thought that the impound lot could be left in the private sector.
“Maybe this could be a franchise with someone that has a location that’s suitable,” he said.
Councilman John Gehrig pushed for higher increases to increase revenue, noting that other municipalities in Worcester County were charging $325 per tow.
“I just think we’re leaving too much money on the table,” he said. “I think we should go to $300 with $100 to the town. Whether you’re selling cheeseburgers or T-shirts, the market sets the price. I just don’t know why we would have our storage fee less than our neighbors.”
“We’re not in this for a permanent solution,” Hartman said. “We have another year. This is a way of putting a Band-Aid on it.”
The motion passed unanimously, but Mayor Rick Meehan did express reservations about setting the daily storage fee at $50 for the first day.
“If someone gets their car, that’s a lot of money. We are a tourist community and we have to be hospitable and take that into consideration,” Meehan said.
The new tow increases are scheduled to go into effect on June 1 after the council passes a resolution.