Tuesday, June 11, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Council sets tow fee to track with consumer price index change

City Council responded Thursday to a request from local towing companies and the Austin Police Department to raise the fee for non-consent tows taking place in the city.

The vote sets the fee at $185 for tows initiated by the police in cases involving obstructions in the right of way, also known as non-consent tows. It does not apply to non-consent tows taking place on privately owned property.

The fee for non-consent tows has been set at $150 since June 2006. Assistant Police Chief Justin Newsom told Council on Thursday that “if you apply the consumer price index and the cost-of-living increase, in today’s dollars that would be $185.”

Because tow fee studies can only be requested every two years, Newsom said the department decided to request a jump to $195 to account for cost-of-living increases in the years ahead.

Austin also has one of the lowest fees in the region, Newsom said, though it is still just above the average of $148 for the 10 largest cities in Texas.

The average in the Austin metropolitan area is $195, with Round Rock charging the least at $130 and Travis County charging the most at $275 for non-consent tows.

Council Member Greg Casar told Newsom that with the costs in the region being particularly high compared to large cities across the state, it makes better sense simply to keep track with increases to the CPI rather than jump ahead of it.

Casar drafted an amendment to the proposed ordinance to set the fee at $185. Setting the fee according to increases in CPI, he said, will give both staff and future Council members a stable method for future adjustments.

Stakeholders were not noticeably shaken by the $10 subtraction (though some had requested rates above APD’s ask of $195), but many showed up to voice their frustration that the increase would not apply equally to non-consent private property tows.

In addition to dealing with increased costs of living and operations in the last 13 years, Michael Montoya, owner of ATX Towing, said small businesses like his that are not on the police tow rotation list “have different marketing, staffing and insurance costs that are needed to generate just one tow.”

Tasha Mora, co-owner of A&A Wrecker and Recovery, said the exclusion of private property tows makes little sense considering that companies performing those tows played a major part in initiating the tow fee study last fall. In addition, she noted that the portion of city code that references the conditions of tow fee studies does not distinguish between non-consent tows conducted on or off private property.

Mora said the group of stakeholders she was representing supports either adopting the ordinance without the exclusion of non-consent private property tows or postponing the item until July to provide an opportunity to explain the situation from their perspective.

Newsom said the department takes a neutral stance on the question of increasing private property non-consent fees since police are not involved in those instances.

Based on Council’s interest, however, Newsom said the department can conduct a similar study specifically for non-consent private property tows to address the stakeholders’ concerns. He said they would only require time to bring the issue to the Urban Transportation Commission before bringing it back to Council for possible action.

Casar motioned to pass the ordinance with his amendment and additional direction to APD to return as soon as possible to consider an increase to private property tow fees, likely in August or September. With a second by Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, the measure passed 9-0. Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison were off the dais for the vote.

Photo by Daniel Hoherd made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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