The San Marcos Police Department presented a revision to the Council of the city’s wrecker ordinance. The current wrecker ordinance was adopted January 14, 2002 and has since then not been revisited. Under this ordinance wrecker service fees were established and the city limited, but does not set, the amounts that can be charged for wrecker services.
Under the Texas Occupations Code, it is required that the Council establishes procedures by which a towing company may request that a towing fee study be performed. It also requires the Council to establish or amend allowable fees for non-consent tows at amounts that represent the fair service value of the services.
The Police Department held a workgroup to discuss and evaluate wrecker fees. Representatives of wrecker companies, body shops, insurance industry, Council of Neighborhood Associations, Transportation Advisory Board, San Marcos Legal Department, and the Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni Association composed the workgroup. Based on the discussions had at this workgroup the Police Department came up with revision to the current wrecker fees. Currently a non-consent tow is $60, the show up fee is $20, the drop fee is $30, and a police authorized tow costs $70. The proposed revision would increase these prices to $75 for a non-consent tow, the show up fee would be brought up to $50, as well as the drop fee, and a police authorized tow would cost $120. These fees were compared to other cities surveyed, which were Austin, San Antonio, Lockhart, New Braunfels, Luling, and Seguin. San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams said that in the fee comparison, “San Marcos would fall somewhere in the middle. ”
Policy changes were also recommended because of recodification of and amendments to the state statutes. Language needs to be updated to reflect codification of the state statute of the Occupations Code. Insurance requirements have to be increased to reflect the minimum required by the Occupations Code for an Incident Management Towing Permit, which is required for police authorized tows. The Chief of Police and the Municipal Court should be removed from conducting hearings on overcharges, as the Occupations Code now puts that authority with the Justice of the Peace Courts. A procedure to conduct fee studies needs to be established.
Other policy changes were also recommended by staff. Clarification of the definitions for “non-consent tow” and “police authorized tow” are necessary. Staff wants the wording requirement regarding fees on tow-away signs should be changed. Currently tow-away signs show a $60 towing fee, however other charges do apply, therefore a revision is needed to clarify on the tow-away signs, the towing fee plus any other fees that may be charged. Also, clarification is needed of when a wrecker driver may decline to accept a check or credit card at the scene of a tow. The requirement for wreckers to carry fire extinguishers with valid and current inspection certificate needs to be updated. Staff also recommends clarifying the authority of the Chief of Police to suspend from the rotation system any wrecker service that overcharges for an accident tow.
Non-consent towing is a hot topic within the San Marcos community. Former student liaison to the Council CJ Morgan advised that the Council take serious measures with this issue, he said “predatory towing” is a big concern. He went on to describe several scenarios where tow trucks hide, wait for people to leave a considerable distance from their car and then tow away their vehicle. City Council Member John Thomaides echoed one of Morgan’s specific scenarios and said, “What if I park in the Nelson Center, go around the corner to get a smoothie, and two minutes later my car is gone.” He said these are some concerns that need to be addressed.
Staff provided other optional minimum requirements for non-consent tows of which the council agreed upon. Special permits will be required for non-consent tows (including repossessions) with provisions of revocation for repeated violations of the Occupations Code or City Ordinance. Wrecker companies must also require a property owner or manager to summon a wrecker to remove a vehicle before the vehicle can be removed; otherwise a set maximum wrecker fee of $0 will be charged to the owner or operator of the vehicle if a wrecker removes a vehicle without having been summoned by a property owner or manager. If any wrecker service violates the non-consent tow provisions of the Occupations Code, they will be suspended from the rotation system. Also, additional warning signs will be required to be posted before vehicles can be removed, including in them the fee plus the storage fee.
The Council gave Chief Williams direction to bring it back as an ordinance for consideration.
By ANDY SEVILLA