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East Grand Forks switches towing service

The towing company with the lowest price got the contract with the city of East Grand Forks on Tuesday -- but not without debate and a close vote. Three of seven City Council members went with Stuart's Towing and Repair, the company with the high...

The towing company with the lowest price got the contract with the city of East Grand Forks on Tuesday -- but not without debate and a close vote.

Three of seven City Council members went with Stuart's Towing and Repair, the company with the higher price, because Stuart's has had a record of reliable service.

Other council members said it seems rather unfair to ask for pricing and then reject the company with the lowest price, which would be Stuart's rival, Grand Cities Towing.

For example, Stuart's charges $60 for a basic tow while Grand Cities charges $45. That's a 25 percent savings to the city.

For towed vehicles, Grand Cities charges $10 a day for storage while Stuart's charges $20.

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"For us not to award (Grand Cities) this bid is to discredit the whole bidding system of the city," Council Vice President Henry Tweten said.

The contract is for one year.

The city has long called on Stuart's when police need to move improperly parked cars, clear out accidents or plow snow out of the way. The relationship was so cordial that Stuart's was towing police vehicles for free.

On Tuesday, Chief Mike Hedlund said his officers told him they're very happy with Stuart's service.

But some residents have not been happy. Some of them complained in 2006 that, when they were in accidents, police called Stuart's automatically and the prices they were forced to pay were way too high.

At the time, Grand Cities wasn't around yet and some council members indicated they preferred to do business with East Grand Forks-based businesses.

Since then, police have offered accident victims a choice of towing companies they can call.

Those voting to keep Stuart's were council members Marc DeMers, Wayne Gregoire and Mike Pokrzywinski.

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Pokrzywinski said the record of service is important to him. As the owner of a service business, he said, he knows that you often get what you pay for. Would the council fire the city attorney with years of experience for a recent law school grad just because the newcomer had a lower rate, he asked.

DeMers agreed. The bottom line has to be pretty impressive, he said, before he'd want to take a chance with a newcomer.

Council member Craig Buckalew, a business owner himself, took the point of view of the newcomer. "I do have a problem when we go out for a bid and the new company isn't even give a chance to prove themselves," he said.

Council member Greg Leigh asked that Grand Cities be on a six-month probation period, just in case it can't respond as quickly as Stuart's.

Grand Cities has been in business since mid-2007.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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