Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Towing fees take big jump


An administrative fee established 14 years ago that allows the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to charge $45 for each vehicle it has towed was raised significantly yesterday by the Board of Supervisors to as much as $170.
According to a board agenda letter, the increased fees will enable the department to recoup all of the costs associated with towing and then some.

During fiscal year 2006-2007, the county towed 1,212 vehicles, 744 of which were towed in unincorporated areas of the county, while 468 were in cities that use the Sheriff’s Department on a contract basis to oversee law enforcement.
The total amount collected on these tows was $54,555 -- $21,000 for contract cities and $33,486 for the county.
With the new fees, the contract cities are expected to double their revenue with $47,000 in towing fees, while the county will rack up about $75,000.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the board’s chairman, said any surplus the Sheriff’s Department makes from the fees will be put back into its operating budget, which recently sported a $3.4 million budget deficit. The board shored that deficit up with a complete bailout at the beginning of January.
While prior to yesterday the towing fee was a flat $45, the severity of the fee will now be based on the type of towing that occurred.
For standard tows, which occur when a vehicle simply needs to be removed from the roadway, the fee was increased to $130. The second towing tier is a 30-day hold, which is when a vehicle is towed and stored at a towing lot for 30 days, or until the owner can work out legal issues. Fees in this category will be $160.
For forfeiture tows, which occur when a vehicle owner fails to pay private tow company fees or simply does not claim the vehicle, the fee will be $170.
These fees are on top of whatever private towing companies charge.
An employee of Smitty’s Towing in Santa Barbara, who asked to remain anonymous, said Smitty’s charges $195 per hour when it gets a call from the Sheriff’s Department for a tow. He said the clock begins ticking when the tow truck leaves the lot and stops when the vehicle is in the yard. Smitty’s also charges a storage fee, which is assessed each day a vehicle remains in the lot.
For calls from the Santa Barbara Police Department, the employee said Smitty’s charges $165 per hour.
Compared to neighboring cities and counties, the new fees are consistently the steepest.
The second highest, according to the agenda letter, is the City of San Luis Obispo, which charges $99 for standard tows and $176 for 30-day hold tows. It does not list a number for forfeiture tows.
But throughout Ventura County, the fees are much lower, ranging from a low of $11 for unincorporated areas and a high of $110 in Thousand Oaks, which is the price for all categories of tows.
In the City of Santa Barbara, the towing fees are $60 for standard tows and $115 for 30-day tows.

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