The proposed amendment would cut a portion of the fees the county collects from tow operators in an effort to lessen the cost Lake County residents pay if their cars get towed, according to Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond. The county’s ordinance currently levies a $50 franchise fee of tow operators, and a $75 fee paid to the county for each tow conducted under the terms of the contract.
Larry Blanchard, a commissioners’ consultant, said the franchise fee netted the county $80,000 to $90,000 before the program was restructured putting that money into the general fund. When the towing fees went to the Sheriff’s Department, Blanchard said that went toward funding salaries and other items.
The County Council eliminated the towing fund used to pay for salaries after the Board of Commissioners took over the towing program.
“So we’re losing $90,000?” asked Councilman Jamal Washington, D-Merrillville.
“Yes, we’re losing $90,000,” Hamm said.
Hamm said he’s supporting the commissioners’ request as the council opted to given them authority over how the towing program is run.
Washington said he supports the amendment but wanted to know the rationale.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he’s concerned because anytime money is taken away, there’s always something that comes up short.
“It’s coming,” Bilski said.
The Lake County Council stripped governance of the towing contracts from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department earlier this year after federal indictments against Sheriff John Buncich alleged he solicited bribes from operators in exchange for more tow jobs.
The Board of Commissioners continue to move forward with its reforms to the county’s towing policies, which many were set to start June 1.
In March, the county received proposals from 23 tow operators vying for contracts; eight of those operators previously had contracts with the sheriff. Three operators who submitted proposals were disqualified for not meeting the county’s guidelines.
The commissioners approved nine contracts in May and were waiting for another 11 to be returned by a May 30 deadline. Once all the contracts were received, the commissioners planned to develop quadrants assigned to towing companies.
If a tow operator had a contract with the Sheriff’s Department that was not renewed by the commissioners, it will be terminated.