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Bloomington tow companies, property owners react to proposed towing rule changes



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Sue Sgambelluri, Bloomington city council member, makes a point during a city council meeting Feb. 12 at City Hall. The council discussed possible updates to the city’s non-consensual towing policies and fees. Joy Burton

Discussions about the cost of towing led to shouting from towing company owners and attempts to cut off council members mid-sentence Wednesday night, with the meeting lasting more than three hours.

The Bloomington City Council discussed towing practices and fees while talking about a proposed ordinance and four amendments dictating how towing companies can conduct business.

City deputy administrator and attorney Stephen Lucas said the ordinance was meant to prevent predatory practices by towing companies such as refusing to release vehicles, towing vehicles a great distance and charging exorbitant towing and storage fees. It also sets regulations for towing and clarifies rights of both property and vehicle owners. 

The amendment about administrative fees towing companies can charge sparked a heated discussion. The council did not give a recommendation on whether to pass it. The other amendments were sent to the Bloomington City Council with recommendations to pass them.

There were a number of suggested amendments to the ordinance, Lucas said. The first would raise the base towing fee from $125 to $135 for a tow, which would align Bloomington's fee with the Monroe County and IU towing fees. The committee unanimously recommended passing the first amendment. 

Council member Jim Sims, the sponsor of the ordinance, said it addresses predatory towing, not towing in general. Sims said there was a complaint in which a woman left her vehicle for less than an hour and had to pay $200 to get it back. 

Multiple tow company owners argued the amendment would allow a warning to stop renewal of a towing license, rather than after multiple offenses or a penalty. The council amended the wording so a single warning would not be enough to stop renewal of a towing license.

Jacob Padawan, owner of TowTime Towing, said businesses should be able to control their operations and prices. 

“Who controls what the hell our price is?” Padawan said.

Sims disagreed and said the definition of “predatory” is a complex, subjective issue. He said there is a difference between fair business practices and predatory towing, giving examples such as charging large towing fees.

“This is to control and protect our most vulnerable citizens,” Sims said.

City attorney Mike Rouker said the new procedures are similar to those of other cities such as Indianapolis and South Bend, Indiana. 

The amendment about licenses was sent to the Bloomington Common Council with a recommendation to pass with a 5-2 vote. Councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Kate Rosenbarger left before the amendment was voted on. 

Padawan said the administrative fee, another point of contention, should be about $65 to reflect the extra administrative duties, such as policing parking lots. 

The driver for the tow company must drive and check every car in the lots they monitor, along with checking no-tow lists from the property owners, which change frequently, Padawan said. These services should fall under administrative fees, he said.

Ken Parrish, owner of Ken’s Westside Service & Towing said residents shouldn’t pay for policing, and administrative fees are murky and undefined. He said he’d love to make more money, but the fees don’t add up. 

“If they think their overhead is more than mine, then I’d like to share my books,” Parrish said. “I think the prices they’re asking for is absurd.”

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