Views heard on expanded towing

The Baltimore Sun

Supporters of a proposal designed to expand the number of tow-truck drivers authorized to respond to accident scenes in Baltimore County told the County Council yesterday that the plan would reduce problems such as late responses and illegal overcharges.

At a council work session in Towson, supporters of Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver's proposal also said it would make it easier for small companies, particularly those owned by minorities, to obtain licenses.

Tow-truck drivers seeking licenses must establish a "need" for their service in a geographic area, a requirement that county officials say has prevented many companies from obtaining licenses. Oliver's plan would authorize a contractor to select which companies respond to accident scenes and the areas they serve.

"The way the laws are written, there will never be any new towers," Jeffrey Jordan, the only African-American among the 33 tow-truck company owners licensed by the county, testified. "The system we presently have has failed us."

Opponents of the bill, including a half-dozen tow-truck drivers licensed by the county, testified that by removing the requirement to establish a "need" for extra drivers, an unlimited number of drivers would operate in the county, making it almost impossible for companies to make a profit.

They also said that having a contractor manage the dispatching of drivers to accident scenes - a task currently handled by county police officers - would add an unnecessary layer to the process.

"It could cause much confusion in what has been an efficient, well-run system of removing accident vehicles and clearing county roads," said Dennis McElgunn, president of the Baltimore County Organized Licensed Towers.

Under the plan proposed by Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, the county would select through bidding a contractor to dispatch drivers to accident scenes and document any problems. The contractor would be paid through a fee imposed on towing companies. County officials estimated that the fee would be $3 to $5 per dispatch.

One part of the bill that did not draw opposition yesterday is a requirement that tow-truck companies remain open on weekends and holidays or abstain from charging customers for the storage of vehicles on those days.

The council is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday.

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