City targets illegal tow operators Council moves to stiffen penalty on unlicensed firms.


The City Council has given preliminary approval to a bill that would set stiff penalties for unlicensed firms that tow illegally parked vehicles from private property.

Under a city law that went into effect last August, firms must be licensed to tow vehicles from private property. The law was enacted after the council received many complaints from motorists who accused the firms of charging exorbitant fees and engaging in other questionable practices. Violators of the law face fines ranging from $50 to $500.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, who introduced the original legislation and the new bill acted on by the council last night, said stiffer penalties would help the city crack down on firms that violate the licensing law.

The new enforcement provisions would:

* Allow the city to enjoin a company by civil court action from trespass towing until it complies with the law.

* Add to the fine a jail sentence of up to 60 days for those convicted of operating without a license.

* Provide that each day a tow truck operator goes without obtaining a license would be considered a separate offense carrying another fine and/or jail term.

* Allow police to serve a citation to a tow truck driver seen towing without a license displayed on the tow truck. Under the original law, the citation could be served only on the owner of the towing firm.

The licensing law does not affect firms that haul disabled vehicles, city-owned tow trucks, and firms authorized by the police to do accident or impound towing.

In other action, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke scheduled for June 17 a vote on whether to override the mayor's veto of legislation to repeal the beverage container tax.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last Thursday vetoed the measure that would have ended the controversial tax by midnight May 31.

Clarke acknowledged that at this point she doesn't have the required 15 votes from the 19-member council to override the veto.

"But I needed to set some deadline for either consideration of the container tax repeal or the other solid-waste revenue measures we have before us," Clarke said.

The council is considering legislation that would either apply a surcharge to the dumping fees paid by commercial trash haulers at the landfills and incinerators, or impose a solid waste collection fee on commercial businesses, or a combination of both.

Also before the body is a bill that would impose a wholesale distributor tax on certain items that are not recyclable, such as vehicular tires and batteries and major appliances, such as refrigerators and stoves.

The majority of the council, in this municipal election year, is intent on going for a cut of 4 or 5 cents in the city's property tax rate, which now stands at $5.95 for each $100 of assessed value.

Members also want to find revenue to add more police officers and more street-cleaning hokey men and to restore some of the housing code inspectors lost when the state cut aid to the city.

To accomplish those goals, the council would need to come up with about $7 million in new revenue.

The container tax becomes crucial to the council's goals. The Schmoke administration has included $6.9 million in expected container tax revenue in its proposed 1992 fiscal budget. If the container tax stays for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, then it will be easier for the council to come up with additional revenue to cut the tax rate and add the services it wants.

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