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Wendy Reuer, Published February 07 2013

Council member suggests partial refund for tows

MOORHEAD – Councilman Mark Altenburg said he will propose at Monday’s City Council meeting giving partial refunds to the 130 people who had their vehicles towed here last week.

Altenburg and Councilwoman Heidi Durand held a town hall meeting Thursday with area residents and students of Minnesota State University Moorhead to discuss last week’s first implementation of the city’s snow district. They said they wanted to hear what went wrong and suggestions for improvement.

“The execution of the policy was a terrible mistake,” Altenburg said.

The snow removal district was created this summer along with a number of other parking measures designed to alleviate complaints near MSUM and Concordia College. When more than 5 inches of snow fell over the weekend, a snow district was announced Tuesday that prohibited parking on opposite sides of roads over the next two days.

A reported 130 vehicles were towed on Wednesday and Thursday.

Altenburg said at Thursday’s forum that he will ask the council on Monday to refund $52 of the $95 towing fee most people paid to retrieve their vehicles from the impound lot. He said about $43 goes to the towing contractor while $52 is paid back to the city. More than $6,700 would be returned to vehicle owners.

Altenburg said the city should “absolutely not” profit from towing vehicles during a snow event.

In a memo to City Council members and the mayor dated Thursday, City Manager Michael Redlinger said the administrative fee pays for city staff and police who put in overtime during the snow event.

Redlinger said in the report that there is a consensus among he and staff to “stay the course” and work on refining the snow district program instead of wholesale changes.

Altenburg acknowledged his motion to refund towing fees may not find support in the council, but he hopes to see some change in policy.

“If we’re going to make changes to the policy, now is the time to make changes,” Altenburg said. “We’re not going to scrap the whole policy either.”

Councilman Mark Hintermeyer said Thursday that it was too early to comment on Altenburg’s proposal. Councilwoman Brenda Elmer also said she needed more information.

A recurring request from the roughly 25 people who attended the MSUM meeting was implementing the snow districts rules during overnight hours instead of from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and to enhance communication during a snow event.

Many students and residents have complained that signage was confusing and the new towing rules took them by surprise.

According to Redlinger’s memo, notifications were posted to the city’s website, on social media, through MSUM and Concordia communications and in emails to campus email group members. Radio and TV announcements were also made.

“There will always be people who don’t get the message,” said Lance Pearson, an MSUM student and Moorhead resident.

Hintermeyer said he has suggested the city create an app that could be used by smartphone owners to determine where it is safe to park.

Durand and Altenburg said placing temporary signs in towing areas could also help alleviate confusion.

MSUM also held a series of town hall meetings on Thursday to address the parking and towing issues.

University officials plan to will make its "general" parking lots free to students, employees and visitors – even those without parking permits – during snow district events, according to Redlinger’s memo to council.

The school also plans to encourage employees and students to sign up for the city’s direct emails and alerts.

The City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530