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March 19. 2013 9:57PM

Manchester police propose towing fee hike to make cost 'competitive'

MANCHESTER - Getting one's car ticketed and towed is bad enough, but drivers in the Queen City could soon get slapped with significantly higher fees from towing companies.

The Manchester Police Department is proposing that standard towing fees be hiked from $70 to $110, a 57 percent increase. For tows during non-business hours, the fee would go from $85 to $125. The daily storage fee would go from $25 to $30, and the fee for releasing the vehicle during non-business hours would be hiked from $25 to $40.

The aldermen's Administration Committee approved the fee increases Tuesday without discussion. The full Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to vote on the revised ordinance next month.

Police Chief David Mara said the higher rates were in line with those in other cities and towns; he noted the rates were last raised in 2005.

"Gas prices have gone up, inflation, salaries," he said. "It was the fair thing to do. This doesn't bring us up to have the highest rates around."

According to a survey conducted by police, the average towing charge in similar cities and surrounding communities is $125.

In Concord, towing companies are allowed to charge $145 for a standard tow and $120 for snow emergencies. In Nashua, the rate is $125 for a regular tow and $95 for a snow emergency removal. Bedford police tows are $125, and in Londonderry, the rate is $105.

Mara said he understands the public might not be pleased with the higher rates, but he said the department had to make sure the city offered competitive rates.

"Towing companies in these other communities are making a certain amount of money. We're keeping to industry standards. We need companies to be on that tow list to facilitate getting cars off the street," he said.

The vote on towing fees comes as a Manchester towing company is in the national spotlight. The U.S. Supreme Court begins hearings today in a case involving Dan's City Auto Body.

The company is challenging a state Supreme Court ruling that found it violated state consumer protection laws when it sold a vehicle that it had towed six years ago while its owner was in the hospital.

The case could determine whether federal trucking laws pre-empt state consumer protection statutes.

As it turns out, representatives of the company were before the aldermen's committee on Tuesday. The company was protesting the police department's recent decision to stop contracting with it.

In a letter to the company, a police official wrote, "Contractors ... are expected to maintain positive working relationships with members of the Manchester Police Department and exhibit high professional standards ... It was determined that your company would be excluded from consideration."

The committee approved the police department's decision, after meeting in closed session with representatives of the company.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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