Despite several recently announced changes to Wilmington’s towing contract, one outspoken critic is still worried.
Ken Grant, who has been following the issue for the past 10 years, said that he doesn’t have faith that the proposed changes will be implemented.
“They’re not addressing the real issue,” Grant said. “This is what the city does consistently. When they’re facing the kind of legitimate criticism that they’re facing now on this issue, they turn around and say, ‘Oh, we’re announcing a bunch of reforms.’ So you can find the reforms that they announced back in 2019 over all this. Which, again, absolutely positively, none of those reforms were put into place in 2019 or 2020 or 2021.”
Grant said that he also has an issue with the money the city makes from parking tickets and impounding fees.
“While this administration is not doing anything to proactively change anything, it did not initiate all of this stuff,” Grant said. “This goes back more than 20 years. What the city did was decide this was going to be a revenue generator. They were going to use parking tickets and enforcement to make money for the city. That’s when they raised the ticket price to $40.”
John Rago, deputy chief of staff for the mayor of Wilmington, said people like Grant blow up issues to seem more noteworthy than they are.
“What happens here in these situations is the Ken Grants of the world, they just use one or two instances, and then make it sound like there are 30 or 40 others,” Rago said. “But we’re fine with looking at anything that anyone brings to our attention. So far, nobody’s done that…we have to deal with facts here in the government.”
In the city’s $275.3 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year, tickets and booting are projected to account for $1.4 million in revenue, down from $2.8 million in the previous fiscal year, $3.9 million in the 2016 fiscal year, and $5 million in the 2013 fiscal year.
The city of Wilmington announced May 23 that it would be updating its contract with City Towing Services.
The changes to the contract include:
- City Towing will not charge towing or storage fees to owners of average-sized vehicles.
- City Towing will charge a towing fee and daily storage fee for oversized vehicles beginning on the eighth day of storage.
- Increasing the time City Towing must hold a vehicle in storage, from 45 days to 60 days.
- City Towing must tell the city’s Police Chief and Finance Director at least two weeks prior to taking a title to a vehicle when the vehicle owner fails to retrieve it.
- City Towing can’t take a vehicle title until the Police Chief or Finance Director confirms that City Towing has held the vehicle for the required time period under the contract.
- City Towing has to get prior written approval from the city to hire a subcontractor to tow vehicles beyond the towing weight capacity City Towing can handle.
- City Towing must provide the city with a copy of the notice City Towing sends to registered owners and lienholders of towed vehicles no later than 72 hours after the vehicle was towed.
- City Towing must allow a vehicle owner access to the storage lot where their vehicle is being kept at all times to get the vehicle or personal items from the vehicle at no charge to the owner.
The adopted contract will expire on March 31, 2024.
In May 2021, the city put out a statement claiming comments made by the Wilmington Parking Coalition were misleading and misinterpreted data.
Grant was the primary organizer of the Wilmington Parking Coalition, which has not been active for two years.
One claim was that the company with which the city contracted in 2020, Conduent, got a 30% cut of booting and towing revenue, which could lead to impropriety.
The city responded by saying that it was unfortunate the coalition made that connection and that it was good to offer an incentive to collect unpaid fees because, at the time, they had only collected $18,335 of the $4.2 million owed to the city.
Grant pointed to an August 2022 news report outlining five instances of people being charged storage fees when City Towing was contractually obligated not to.
Because the names of the people involved were not listed in the article, Rago said he believes they aren’t true, “I think they just don’t have the information.”
Rago said he isn’t familiar with people being improperly charged storage fees
“I’ve not personally handled any storage fee issues,” Rago said. “I don’t remember the last time I got a call from anyone. I mean, I do a lot of these cases myself, or I like to get in and take a look at them, because I think it helps the city, learn what works and what’s not working. And so you can make changes that way. So I like to look at these cases. And I’ve not handled any having to do with storage.”
Separately, the city was sued on Sept. 22, 2021, by Ameera Shaheed and Earl Dickerson for issues they had with their cars being towed.
According to the complaint filed against Wilmington, City Towing Service and First State Towing, the towing company the city employed before City Towing, both Shaheed and Dickerson felt they were wronged by the city.
Shaheed received six parking tickets between Sept. 9 and Sept. 17, 2019, while being legally parked, according to the complaint. Because those tickets totaled over $200, her car was towed and impounded.
The complaint doesn’t clarify what the six parking tickets were for.
Shaheed’s car, a 2005 Hyundai XG350, was ultimately scrapped because she was unable to pay the $320 necessary to release her car from First State Towing’s lot. According to the complaint, Shaheed still owes the city $580 for the parking tickets.
Dickerson had his car towed on April 19, 2021, possibly because his car was left idle for too long, though a specific reason isn’t specified in the complaint.
On April 22, Dickerson paid the city $60 for failing to move his car and $25 for the impound release fee.
According to the complaint, Dickerson contacted City Towing to release his car on May 6, 2021 but was told he needed to pay an additional $910, because of a $ 65-a-day storage fee beginning on the fifth day.
The complaint alleges that City Towing’s contract with the city at the time stipulated a $0-a-day storage fee.
Dickerson’s car, a 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 Van, was eventually scrapped.
In both instances, the complaint alleges that a post-deprivation hearing would have allowed both people to clear things up before their cars were impounded.
Rago said the city is happy to look at individual cases to try and rectify any issues people have with parking.
“The only comment we can offer is just what I’ve said over and over again,” Rago said. “We’re happy to help and review any case for a person who feels their situation was not treated properly or unfairly. So we’ve done that. And we do that every day here, in terms of making sure people…have a chance to appeal.”
Grant said he is pessimistic about any change.
“Take a look at the claims for reform going back to 2019 and the fact that again, the parking ticket rates they announced in October. ‘We’re going to lower them.’ They still haven’t done that,” Grant said. “I’m not holding my breath for anything.”
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