News: Towing Hike Approved

The tow-zone boogeyman just got his teeth sharpened.

The Miami Beach City Commission approved the fee hike long sought by the city’s two towing companies at their November 14th meeting.

In a contested 4-3 vote, Beach Towing and Tremont Towing were both granted three-year permits in which fees will increase by the year.

A “Class A” tow, considered to be the most common type of tow, will increase the first year from $115.00 to $140. The price will then increase to $150 in year two, and then $155 in year three according to the agreement. That of course is the base price, a tow can accrue a host of other fees including labor, mileage, storage, flatbed services, and administration fees that could potentially add another $100 or more to the final price.

All those fees also see a yearly increase for the life of the permits.

The towing companies argued that the increases were necessary because of the rising cost of fuel, labor and other expenses. It’s a point that can not really be verified as the companies refused to turn over their full books to the city.

Dissenting voices on the dais argued they couldn’t really make an informed decision if they did not have a sense of the numbers.

“It troubles me that they made the suggestion that they weren’t profitable and we should look at their books,” said Commissioner Ed Tobin,“but we didn’t get to look at their books.”

Permission to audit the tow companies’ finances were not part of the last permit agreement.

Technically, it’s also not part of the new agreement.

Per the resolution that passed, the city and the tow companies have 90 days to come up with an “audit” system that both parties mutually agree to. Lawyers for the tow companies went on record at the November meeting saying their clients would not release the full books.

In the full year it took this resolution to be voted on, the tow companies made around 14,000 ‘public tow’ receipts available to the city. Receipts for private tows and expense numbers, which would have given city staff a balanced glimpse at the profitability of the business, were not made available.

“This is half the ledger, why bother to audit?” asked an animated Commissioner Jerry Libbin. “Just give them what they want, why make a show about it?”

The city also doesn’t have the full info from the information handed over by Beach and Tremont. When grilled by Mayor Matti Bower and commissioner Tobin on the totals and/or the average from the 14,000 receipt the city did have, city staff confessed they had not bothered to add up the totals on the receipts, and were operating their assumptions on a “quess-timate.”

A little peeved, Bower sighed that if she did not ask “the exact right question,” information sought would be obscured by semantics. She deemed it a “failure” by the city to not have harvested the receipts for numbers.

The commission amended the agreement, so that by the end of the first year, assuming a mechanism and definition is in place, the city would audit the tow companies.

Commissioner Michael Gongora stressed that the operation needed “better accountability,” and that knowing how much the companies made the first year would make sure “no one is reaping a windfall.”

The city did get some “enhancements” woven into the new deal. Prices for residents towed from a public spot will be frozen at the rate before the increases. Those prices don’t apply if a resident is towed from private ground.

All towing employees will need to wear uniforms, have their driving licenses screened, and must pass a drug test. The drug test process however, will be 100% controlled by the companies. Beach and Tremont only need to hand over a pass/fail report if the city specifically requests one.

The permits also put an end to a handful of lawsuits between Beach Towing and the Miami Beach.

By the end of the first year, all trucks need to be equipped with GPS that will transmit data back to the city. However, the GPS only has to be on when a truck is doing a public tow. By the end of the second year, cameras could be an option on the trucks. Cameras, Tobin argued, were more important than GPS, as they were a way to keep track if the agreement is being followed.

The vote broke down with Commissioners Deede Weithorn, Jonah Wolfson, Jorge Exposito, and Gongora voting for the fee hike. Mayor Bower, and Commissioners Tobin, and Libbin voted against it.

The administration did not recommend the increases because they did not have any numbers to support those claims.

About Frank Maradiaga

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