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Erik Burgess, Published February 11 2013

Moorhead: No refunds for snow removal tows

MOORHEAD – The City Council here says those who were towed during a snow-plowing blitz late last month won’t be getting their money back.

A reported 130 vehicles were towed during the city’s first snow removal declaration around the Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College campuses from January 29-31.

Calling it “a terrible mistake,” Councilman Mark Altenburg proposed at Monday night’s meeting that $50 of the basic $95 towing fee be reimbursed to those who were towed.

He was met with harsh criticism by a majority of the council, and the proposal failed 4-2, with Altenburg and Councilwoman Heidi Durand voting for the reimbursement. Councilmen Luther Stueland and Mike Hulett were absent.

Council members who voted down the resolution said those who were towed needed to take some personal responsibility. They were also worried about setting a precedent.

“If we rebate part of the towing fee – the administrative fee –this time, the next time they’ll have a whole bunch more excuses of why they parked on the street,” Councilman Steve Gehrtz said.

“At what point do you close the barn door and say, ‘This is our policy’?”

Of the $95 towing charge, $50 is roughly what is paid back to the city, while $43 is given to the towing contractor, Ed’s Towing Service in Moorhead.

To reimburse the fee to all those towed would cost $6,500.

That’s money the city has already spent, Councilwoman Brenda Elmer said, so reimbursing it would “create a hole” in the city’s budget.

City Manager Michael Redlinger said the city does not profit from the administrative fees, and that it is used to pay for city staff and police who work overtime during a snow event.

Still, Durand believed a one-time “good faith” reimbursement would be OK, especially for the many affected college students.

“We hit the people who can’t afford it the most,” she said. “It’s a bit gut wrenching when I think about when I was in college trying to come up with 100 bucks on the spot; that would’ve set me back pretty far.”

Altenburg said with around 20,000 people living and commuting to the campus area daily, it shocked him that so few have signed up for the city-released alerts. Redlinger said as of Monday night, around 200 people have signed up for those alerts.

“We have to do better,” Altenburg said.

He suggested the city use temporary picket signs in the no-parking zones and make the email alerts “much more dramatic” to better express that cars can and will be towed.

Redlinger said he expects another snow removal declaration in the campus area will be made next week. The community will be given 24 hours’ notice this time around, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518