Towing companies' ask for Brevard rate hike put on ice when Commissioners balk at increase
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It looks like it is back to the drawing board for towing companies trying to negotiate with the county for permission to increase their rates for towing vehicles.
The operators are preparing their pitch, researching costs of labor and equipment, to each member of the county board after former Commission Vice Chair Curt Smith rescinded his proposal when realizing that he did not have the votes to pass the measure.
“What we are trying to do is put a workshop together with commissioners and try and educate them on the ins and outs of what is going on in the last 14 years and give them an answer to why we didn’t approach them sooner for an increase,” said Sam Roig, the operator of Imperial Towing in West Melbourne.
Towing operators have only recently approached the Commission seeking permission to increase the rates for non-consensual tows, from parking violations to accidents. But the ask contained some sticking points for several commissioners.
Smith and towing operators had been working through the terms even prior to Tuesday evening’s vote to try and ensure support from the other commissioners.
Roig said that operators had agreed in principle to the pricing structure laid out in the ordinance. They were willing to lock in the prices now in exchange for the chance to bargain for additional increases next year.
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But as last Tuesday's meeting unfolded, it became clear that the rest of the Commission was unwilling to abide by the 32% increase that Smith had proposed. Leading the opposition was Commissioner John Tobia who took aim at several parts of Smith’s proposal in what could be described as a contentious meeting at times.
The failed towing ordinance was to be Smith’s final signature proposal as Tuesday was his final meeting as a commissioner after terming out.
Smith had been working towards a resolution on updated towing prices since the year began, and the Commission tried to accelerate the process towards a resolution before Smith left office, but to no avail.
A measure to increase non-consensual towing prices was first introduced in January by Smith and Kendall Moore, a lobbyist representing some of the county’s towing companies, because they had not been updated since 2008.
In addition to the price increases, Tuesday’s latest updated ordinance included a customer bill of rights that outlined the responsibility of the towers, such as how they displayed their prices. It also established a system for maintaining who is on the list of towers that can be called upon in case of a collision on the roads.
But consumer rights notwithstanding, commissioners struggled with the proposed towing rate increases. Under the proposed measure, different classes of vehicles will have different prices. But for those classified as A, which is the designation for most passenger vehicles, prices for non-consensual tows would go from $114.23 to $150.23, a 32% increase.
This does not include increases for other fees, such as a fuel surcharge or mileage, which would also increase. The proposed ordinance also stipulates there would be automatic rate increases set at the consumer price index or 3%, whichever is less from the previous 12 months.
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Tobia has opposed price increases, targeting many terms of the ordinance. To support his point, he reviewed the rates in neighboring counties as comparison.
“We are the highest in many categories,” Tobia said. “If we were to go ahead with this proposal, we would be highest in 66 of 69 categories. In other words, 96%.”
If that wasn’t enough, he added that other counties prohibited charging for nine of the services that are in the proposal.
“When I looked at Seminole, Volusia, Orange and Polk, all four of these counties expressly prohibited, by ordinance, nine things that we are currently charging for,” Tobia added.
After almost 20 minutes of hearing him, Smith appeared to have had enough.
“You know I am really getting tired of this,” he said. “How about you just cut to the chase. You say you have answers for all this, let’s hear your answers, because I can tell you, what you have said so far, you are really quibbling about minor stuff.”
By the end, most commissioners agreed the magnitude was too much for the public to absorb.
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“That is too high,” Commission Chair Kristine Zonka said. “But I think they definitely need an increase. I don’t even have an issue with that because the cost of everything has gone up.”
She added there was room to negotiate between the two extremes and requested that Smith speak with the towing companies in the room to gauge what number they felt was appropriate.
After a 15-minute break, the operators asked the item to be tabled and requested a meeting with each of the Commissioners to find some compromise.
Smith then removed the item from consideration.
Operators have yet to schedule a workshop with individual members of the Commission.
“At this point we are not 100% sure,” Roig said about the percentage increases. Instead, they are working on giving them information about their economic conditions.
“We are going to have to gather information form the dealers,” he added. “How much was a truck back then and how much has it increased per year since then. We have to go find fuel, how much was it back then and how much was the increase.”
Ralph Chapoco is government and politics watchdog reporter. You can reach Chapoco at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @rchapoco.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard County Commissioners balk at a 32% increase for towers