Council makes way for more tow companies

October 02, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

The Baltimore County Council moved last night to expand the number of tow truck companies authorized to respond to accidents in the county.

Until now, drivers seeking towing licenses have had to establish a need for their service in certain areas, a requirement that county officials said has prevented many companies from obtaining licenses. Under the bill approved last night, the county will select a contractor to determine which areas are underserved and assign tow truck companies to serve them.

The bill passed 6-1. Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley voted against it.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, who proposed the bill, said he wanted to make it easier for small companies, particularly those owned by minorities, to obtain licenses to respond to police-initiated calls. Of the 33 towing companies licensed by the county, one is minority-owned.

"This bill is long overdue," Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat and the council's only African-American member, said before casting his vote.

Some of the county's licensed tow truck drivers had strongly opposed the bill, saying it would threaten the livelihood of their businesses. They testified last week that by not limiting the number of towing licenses, the county risked flooding the market with tow trucks and making it almost impossible for companies to profit.

Moxley said he voted against the bill because he had many questions, including the amount of the fees the contractor would impose on the towing companies. He said a county official's estimate of the fee - $3 to $5 for each call - sounded low.

"We could have done our homework," said Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat. "We could have seen what other jurisdictions are doing."

County officials said they hope the measure will reduce problems such as late response times and illegal overcharges. The contractor, to be selected through bidding, will use a computer program to identify problems and manage calls, officials said.

Among the bill's supporters was the county's police chief, who testified that having a contractor manage towing at accident scenes would relieve officers of that task.

The measure also requires companies to keep their lots open on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays or refrain from charging for the storage of vehicles on those days.

The measure will cost the county nothing.

Also last night, the council unanimously supported a developer's plan to build 750 homes, retail buildings and parks on 104 acres in Owings Mills. The project, slated for a site off Lyons Mill Road between Lyonswood Drive and Wynfield Drive, calls for single-family houses, work force housing and homes for senior citizens.

Developer Plinlimmon Farms LLC submitted the proposal as a "planned unit development," a designation that eliminates certain zoning rules if the project is deemed to benefit the community. The project needs to be approved by the county Planning Board and undergo a review by county agencies.

The council also appointed Mary P. Allen as county auditor. Allen, 52, of Glen Arm, has served as acting county auditor since March, when Brian Rowe left the $158,000-a-year position after 12 years to work for the state.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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