Local businesses cash in on parking offenders
Nearly 30 cars form two rows in the Grand Forks city impound lot.
All were towed by wrecker or flatbed to the lot, situated on the north end of town, each representing a tow charge for its owner.
Some of the cars will be retrieved by their owners while the remainder will sit long enough to be considered eligible for the police department’s annual car auction.
Removing cars from streets, parking lots and other locations at the request of city departments in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks earns area towing companies thousands of dollars each year.
It’s an action that often can’t be avoided when police officers need to clear an intersection after a traffic accident or street crews need to plow an area blocked by a vehicle.
In Grand Forks, the city’s contract with Interstate Towing has generated just over $56,000 in tow charges from 2010 to July of this year.
So far this year, the city’s police department has reported about $14,000 in towing charges, according to Lt. Dwight Love.
In East Grand Forks, the numbers are slightly lower at about $11,400 between Stuart’s Towing and Grand Cities Towing over the past five years. As of June 30, the city had spent $1,555 on towing costs.
Both cities contract with towing companies for wrecker service available 24 hours a day.
While the cities pay the companies, the costs of tows are passed on to car owners. Owners of towed vehicles must pay the contract wrecker fee, which varies by city. Parking violations that led to the tow also must be paid.
Grand Forks is in the middle of a 36-month contract with Interstate Towing, which receives $65 for each vehicle towed in the city limits plus additional fees for using extra tools or a flatbed. Cars towed as the result of a crash carry a charge of $100 plus any cleanup costs.
The police department has seen an increase in towing costs over the past five years.
In 2010, the yearly towing total came in at around $11,600. Three years later, the costs amounted to $18,500. This year’s total is poised to surpass that.
Part of the increase comes from upping rates in the city’s towing contract, according to Love. The parties hadn’t increased the contract fees for several years and now plan to increase incrementally in the coming years.
East Grand Forks’ contract with Stuart’s Towing and Grand Cities Towing is an extension of an agreement signed in 2010. Owners of cars towed within city limits would pay $50 for cars relocated during street cleaning or snow removal. Cars impounded in the companies’ lots accrue a minimum charge of $80. Additional fees may also apply.
East Grand Forks’ contract costs have hovered between about $1,300 and $3,500 for the past five years.
Budgeting for these costs in both cities can be tricky as there is no typical year for towing numbers. Add factors such as weather and car accidents, and the budget forecast gets even cloudier.
“If I could predict this I’d be going to Vegas,” Love joked.
While there is no typical year for towing, there seems to be a season for it.
Often, weather conditions can play a large role in how many vehicles the cities need removed from streets.
“I know it’s definitely worse in the winter,” said East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund.
Winter weather can create situations requiring a tow, such as traffic accidents.
A number of tows in both cities also occur during snow removals. During snow emergency declarations in East Grand Forks, there is no on-street parking until the street is cleared.
Cars hindering snow removal are usually moved around the corner or to a nearby location to allow crews to finish their work, Hedlund said. The owner receives a citation for the tow.
“Very rarely are we going to impound a vehicle unless it’s involved in a criminal act,” Hedlund said.
During the winter months, the Grand Forks Police Department also will tow cars out of the way of snow removal crews. Like East Grand Forks, the owners are charged a towing and street maintenance fee.
Otherwise, cars are taken to the city’s impound lot. East Grand Forks requires companies to have a secure impound lot where vehicles can be stored.
A journey to impound lots can begin a number of ways.
In addition to vehicles hindering street maintenance and snow removal, cars parked on streets longer than 24 hours qualify for a tow.
When it comes to towing hotspots, Grand Forks Police Lt. Greg LaHaise can’t put his finger on any specific areas in the city.
“The best I can tell you is it’s citywide,” said LaHaise, who works in the department’s facilities and equipment bureau. “We tow cars from all over.”
Across the river, Hedlund said the department does see some trouble areas.
“Apartments can be a problem just because many of the apartment complexes have less parking stalls than tenants,” he said. The situation results in a higher concentration of street parking in areas around complexes.
Hedlund said the department leans toward giving tickets rather than towing immediately. If a vehicle remains on an East Grand Forks city street for more than 24 hours, a tow tag can be placed on the car stating the owner has an additional 24 hours to move the vehicle.
The procedure is similar in Grand Forks.
The police departments are not involved in towing from private lots, but owners of those properties do call to inform the police that a car has been towed from the area.
“They’ll typically let us know, that way if someone calls in a stolen vehicle we can say ‘No, it wasn’t,’” LaHaise said. “If we tow it, we have record of it right away so we can tell them right away where it’s at.”
Towing service costs
East Grand Forks
*Partial year total
Cost of city tow
Grand Forks: $65.
- Potential additional fees: $20-100.
- Flatbed tow: $80.
East Grand Forks: $50.
- Potential additional fees: $20.
- Flatbed tow: $80.