City ups impound fees 60% to $125

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

After 10 years, Sweet Home Police Department is increasing its administrative fee for getting impounded vehicles out from $75 to $125 – a 60 percent increase.

During the last decade, costs have increased, and the fee no longer covers the costs, Police Chief Bob Burford said. He asked the council on May 13 to raise the fee to $100.

He told the council that the cost for impounding a vehicle was between $100 and $125.

The council chose to increase the fee to $125 to ensure that the full cost of towing vehicles is recovered, especially with costs increasing in general. Councilor Rich Rowley asked Burford to monitor the costs and report to the council more frequently.

Under state law, Burford said, police agencies are allowed to collect a fee to recover the costs of impounds.

Burford reported that the number of impoundable offenses have not changed much.

Sweet Home Police Department impounds vehicles operated by drivers who are suspended, have no license, have no insurance or who are intoxicated. Sweet Home started impounding vehicles in October 1997 under a new state law.

The department collects $20,000 to $22,000 per year on impounds, averaging just below one impound per day.

The Police Department incurs costs when an officer pulls over a driver and writes an impound citation, Burford said. The officer must wait with the vehicle until the vehicle is taken by one of three Sweet Home tow companies. The officer also must inventory the contents of the vehicle.

Vehicle owners may appeal an impound, Burford said. That happens about twice a year.

In 1997, Burford told the council he expected that towing vehicles would reduce the number of impoundable offenses, he said, but it’s stayed even.

Then again, “you see a lot more people, adults, riding bikes,” Burford said, and he thinks the law has had a role in that.

Right now, he said, the number of impounds is increasing because officers are spending more time running traffic.

In 2007, Sweet Home police impounded 364 vehicles on 251 insurance charges, 170 driving-while-suspended charges, 76 charges for no operator’s license and 81 driving-under-the-influence charges.

Many impounded vehicles are taken under multiple charges, Burford said.

In 1997, police towed 33 vehicles, all following the implementation of the law on Oct. 21, 1997.

In 1998, police towed 368 vehicles. In 2002, they towed 359. So far this year, police have impounded 175 vehicles.

When a vehicle is impounded, a vehicle may be recovered after an administrative fee is paid to the Police Department, along with tow fees and storage fees to the tow company.

Some drivers never recover their vehicles, and after 30 days, the tow company can sell it to recover costs. Some of those vehicles are sold back into the community, and police see them again with different drivers, Burford said.

Voting for the increase were Eric Markell, Jim Gourley, Scott McKee Jr., Greg Mahler, Jim Bean and Mayor Craig Fentiman. Jim Bean voted against the fee increase.