Towing contract grinds gears

Some local providers question contract that sets rates for working with town

— Several owners of Bethlehem towing businesses are finding it difficult to live with the terms of a contract they signed with the town to be included on the rotational list of towing operators that work with the police department.

Matters of contention include a fee operators now have to pay to the town for each vehicle towed and a cap placed on the cost of each tow for a police call. At least one is also upset about having to erect a fence around his lot in order to store vehicles.

Bethlehem police Sgt. Robert Helligrass said the departmenthad been using a towing rotation list since the 1980s in which when a tow is required after an accident or arrest, the department calls upon companies in a rotating order. No contract was in place with the operators, though.

“We thought it was a good idea because it was a liability issue not to have one,” he said. “We had to share the responsibility in case someone tried to sue the town.”

Helligrass said the department used area towing contracts for inspiration and Bethlehem’s agreement closely mirrors City of Albany’s. The contract went into effect Jan. 1 after first being signed by the six towing operators the town works with and reviewed by Town Attorney James Potter.

The contract stipulates the operators must pay the town a fee of $25 for each vehicle that is “redeemed, sold or junked.” The agreement also puts a cap of $175 on all tows and $75 an hour for winching a vehicle. The argument is since car owners might not have a choice when the police call for a tow, towers should not be able to price gouge.

“If they tow outside of us, operators can charge whatever the market could bear,” said Helligrass. “But we’re trying to keep people honest. To a lot of people, their car is their livelihood.”

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