Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Getting your vehicle towed for illegal parking or a crash in State College is about to become more costly.
Borough council on Monday night approved increases to fees charged by towing companies for towing vehicles from public streets or property at the request of the borough.
The fees were last increased in the fall of 2019 and the new rates come after a request late last year from two of the three towing companies licensed by the borough for public towing, Walk’s Service Center and John Tennis Towing, who cited steep rises in labor and operating costs.
“Like many locally owned businesses, Walk’s and Tennis Towing have been impacted by the nationwide labor shortage,” they wrote in a letter to State College Police Chief John Gardner. “We must be able to attract, hire and retain staff to serve the needs of the State College community 24/7 to ensure parking availability to residents and visitors, as well as to aid in clearing roadways from disabled vehicles.”
The State College Police Department worked with the towing companies to determine the recommended fees, Gardner said in December.
The changes include:
• Non-crash towing increases from $175 to $225
• Crash towing increases from $300 to $375
• Fee for tows requiring use of a dolly increases from $20 to $50
• Drop fee increases from $100 to $150
• Storage fee after 24 hours increases from $45 to $60 per day
• Protection fee for vehicles with open convertible top or open windows increases from $40 to $60
• Drive shaft removal only increases from $60 to $75. (Removal and reinstallation remains the same at $90).
The ordinance also sets a fuel schedule for tows of more than 5 miles ranging from $6 to $7.50, based on the towing company’s current fuel costs.
Council discussed the changes in December but the item was put off for action until Monday. It passed unanimously with little discussion.
At the meeting in December, Walk’s towing manager Tom Hipple said competitive wage rates have escalated and he was “direly short-staffed,” as well as facing sharp increases in other costs.
“My starting payroll is up 50 to 75% to start a new employee now and that literally happened in a couple months,” Hipple said, noting that the companies are now competing with large businesses that have been able to significantly boost their starting wages. “Three years seems like a lot but we’ve absorbed that cost. …Beyond that I have to catch our existing staff up or we could very well start to lose what we do have.
He added that supply-chain issues have resulted in paying premiums and new shipping fees for parts and equipment, and the rising cost of fuel has been “monumental.”
“We’re trying to stay competitive and we’re trying to stay in business, frankly,” he added. “It’s to the point sometimes in football games I didn’t know how we were going to get through them. We’ve passed up 911 calls and not been available. I don’t want to say never but it was so rare that I can’t recall specifics. Now I can. I have somebody call and I say I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you. That just would not have been in the realm of business… I’m hoping that this will get us back to somewhat what we were.”
The ordinance was also updated to allow for a non-borough-licensed towing company to provide service in the event that the licensed towers are not available when immediate removal of a vehicle is critical to public safety — such as blocked intersection or fire hydrants and crashes.
“We have three licensed tow agencies here in the borough and right now, quite frankly, the past year they’ve had real issues and problems with staffing and it’s not uncommon for us to wait 30 minutes, 40 minutes for a tow,” Gardner said in December. “We don’t anticipate that happening very often but it’s something that should be reflected in the ordinance so that it gives us that flexibility to do that in the interest of public safety.”
The ordinance also now requires a towing company to accept all forms of payment for release of a vehicle at the storage location and may not require the owner to go to any other location to have the vehicle released. The towing company must accept at least two major credit cards.
Language was added to the ordinance requiring that towing companies “easily appear in internet searches,” in addition to local telephone directories, and provide “the company name, business address, and a business telephone number that is personally answered 24 hours per day.”
The towing company is required to inform every caller seeking vehicle release the physical address of the storage facility and information that it is the only location where they are required to go for the vehicle to be released.
The updated ordinance will go into effect once signed by Mayor Ezra Nanes.
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Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com