Friday, February 14, 2014
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City discusses nuisance snow and impound fees

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[February 14, 2014]  At the Tuesday evening Lincoln City Council committee of the whole, aldermen heard discussions on several issues, including creating an impound fee for towed vehicles in certain situations, and what to do about commercial snowplows pushing snow into city streets.

Nuisance snow

John Lebegue, building and safety officer, told the council that in looking at existing ordinances, the city has nothing in place to prohibit commercial snowplowing businesses from pushing snow out of parking lots and into city streets.

This year especially, this has created a problem for the city. When the plows push the snow into city streets, then it is city manpower and equipment that has to get the road cleared for traffic.

Lebegue said he had researched ordinances in other communities and found varying degrees of language. In the community of Streator, for example, he said the ordinance just says it is unlawful to push snow into the street. In Bloomington he said the language is a little more complex, and in the community of Washington, it is quite detailed.

In his opinion, Lebegue said the city didn't need to go into detail on the issue, but he felt there was a need for a prohibitive rule.

During the discussion Russell Wright, assistant street superintendent, confirmed that it has been a large problem this year for the street department.

Wright told the council that the worst part is that oftentimes the city has already plowed a street; then they come back to find snow in the road from a nearby parking lot. The result is that the city has to return and plow again, adding time and expense for his department.

During discussion, Marty Neitzel commented that adding this new rule would cause somewhat of an uproar from the commercial plowers.

"And the commercial people are going to say: 'What are we paying taxes for? We pay taxes; you ought to take care of our snow too,'" she said.

The group also talked about how this would affect individuals, and for the most part it would not apply to residential areas where a snowblower tosses some snow into the street. At the same time, Wright told the council there were a few of those that were also an issue, and that if this happens next winter, the city might need to address those individual cases.

Michelle Bauer, newly appointed Ward 2 alderwoman, also weighed in on the discussion, saying that what the city had seen this year were extreme situations where there have been 4 and 6 inches of snow at a time. She said under these circumstances, plows should be starting at the driveway of a business and pushing the snow into the parking lots. She felt creating this rule was reasonable and shouldn't prohibit the commercial plows from doing their job.

The discussion came to a close with Melody Anderson saying she was all in favor of an ordinance that would help the city run its department more efficiently.

Mayor Keith Snyder then asked if the city attorney should go forward with preparing the ordinance, and by nods of the head the council consented. The actual vote on the subject will come when the ordinance is prepared, possibly as early as next week.

Impound fees

Sue McLaughlin, city administrator, introduced the subject of imposing an impound fee on towed vehicles, specifically those that are impounded as a result of a criminal arrest.

McLaughlin said she had been looking at the internal costs of the police department in having a vehicle towed. For example, in the case of towing a vehicle as the result of an arrest for driving under the influence, there is a police officer's time investment of about two to three hours. In these instances, there is no means of recovering the cost of time spent by the department.

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She said there are statues that allow for imposing an impound fee for DUIs, driving without a license and other violations. She suggested that the city consider establishing a fee.

She also explained that in order to do this, the city would also have to establish a code hearing process. This would involve hiring an attorney specifically trained to act as the hearing officer.

The hearing process would be necessary so that vehicle owners could have an opportunity to state their case as to why their vehicle should not have been impounded. She added that if a defendant lost an appeal in the code hearing, the defendant would then have to pay the court costs in addition to the impound fee.

In researching this, McLaughlin said she had talked to other communities of similar size who did this, and they said they averaged one hearing per year.

Mike Geriets, assistant police chief, was on hand for the meeting and told the council that in 2013 the department had 191 vehicles towed; in 2012 the number was 171; and in 2011 it was 124.

Asked how this would work, McLaughlin explained one scenario could be that the vehicle owner would have to pay the impound fee first. They would then receive a receipt that they could take to the towing company lot to show the fee was paid. Then they would pay the tow and storage fee to the towing company and retrieve their vehicle.

When asked what the proposed fee would be, McLaughlin said $500. Many of the aldermen reacted to the price, with Marty Neitzel saying she thought that was awfully high and that people wouldn't pay it.

The topic came up of what to do with cars that were never claimed. McLaughlin said that most people need their cars, and they will come up with the money to get them back. She said in her research she had learned that in other areas, the cities end up with maybe one or two cars a year out of 200.

In those cases, she said the city had options. They could auction the cars, sell them outright, or if they were vehicles in good condition that the city could actually use, the city could keep them.

Jeff Hoinacki asked who the administrators would be for the impound fees. Considering the workload the city clerk's office already has, he wondered if this would add to their duties. Geriets said the paperwork would be done by a city police officer, and the fees would be collected by Brenda McCabe, office administrator. Hoinacki then asked if there would be a need for an additional officer on the payroll, and Geriets said there would not.

Another question asked was whether the city could use this ordinance to impound the vehicles of people with delinquent parking tickets. Blinn Bates, city attorney, said the city could not according to state statute.

Snyder suggested the council take time to review the draft ordinance and bring it back to the committee of the whole for further discussion on Feb. 25.


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