Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ketchum tows 26 cars in 1 night

City ordinance prohibits overnight street parking

Express Staff Writer

Dick York's Auto & Towing Services hauled 26 cars off Ketchum streets and parking lots in the wee hours of Jan. 3 at the cost of $155 per driver, quickly exceeding the city impound lot's capacity of about 10 cars.

Ketchum contracts with the towing company to enforce its ordinance prohibiting parking on streets or city lots from 2-7 a.m. so snow can be removed. The towing company makes at least $135 per tow—$125 for the tow and $10 a day for storage—but owner Clay Campeau said he'd rather do without the work and the extra money it brings.

"Towing cars the five times it happens isn't a huge moneymaker in the big picture," Campeau said.

But it is a lot of work.

Normally, vehicle owners only receive a $20 ticket from city police. But when it snows that day, as it did on Jan. 2, the cars need to be removed.

"The impound lot will be full every time it snows," Campeau said.

After filling the lot, Campeau's drivers are forced to bring the cars to an unfenced location he'd like to keep undisclosed. He said vehicle owners often come and try to drive their cars off without paying.

"They're here throwing fits and saying we're going to regret this," he said. "We tell them [to] talk to Ketchum, but they don't care."

Campeau didn't have this problem last winter or for the previous decade. The city didn't have the cars impounded but merely fined them and told the towing company to relocate them.

Campeau said he preferred the past practice even though his company made less money, earning $250 an hour per tow truck.

"Do we make more money this way?" he said of impounding. "Yes, we do. Is it more of a headache? Yes, 100 percent more of a headache."


Campeau said he wishes the city would return to relocating.

But Ketchum Police Chief Steve Harkins said relocating is no longer being considered.

"People would just find their vehicles and never pay the citation," he said.

And the city still had to pay Dick York's Towing.

With the new impound practice, drivers directly pay the towing company its fees before picking up their car, but don't have to pay the city its $20 to get their cars. Still, Harkins said, people do owe the fine and will get a boot put on their car if they don't pay it.

Harkins said he'd prefer to not tow cars, but they need to be off the streets. And the no-overnight-parking rule isn't hidden from the public.

"Signs are all over town," Harkins said, adding that officers have also given brochures to hotels for guests.

And the city recently lowered the fine for overnight parking from $35 to $20 so drivers get the hint but aren't hit hard. Usually, these drivers aren't towed unless it has snowed in the past 24 hours.

Sometime this month the city will make 20 parking spots available for overnight parking in its lot on Second Avenue. Ketchum Associate Planner Mark Goodman said that once signs are made, the lot would be given a test run. He also said the plan has been in the works for more than a month and is only coincidentally being announced days after the 26 cars were towed.

If the overnight parking at Second Street and Washington Avenue proves successful, Goodman said, more overnight parking may be opened at that same lot and at the city-owned lot at Sixth and Leadville streets.

Harkins said he thinks the overnight lot could diminish the problem but not eliminate it.

"Vehicles will still have to be removed," he said, later adding that some people will always be ignorant of the ordinance no matter how many signs are posted or lots opened.

"People need to be aware," he said.

Trevon Milliard:

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