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Police to enforce abandoned vehicle ordinance

 

Anyone in Sidney with a broken-down car in the front yard should expect to hear from police sometime soon.

At Tuesday night's city council meeting, Sidney Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson asked the council to accept a bid for a towing contract between the city and Affordable Towing for the removal of abandoned and unlicensed vehicles illegally stored on private property.

The police department received only one bid on Sept. 9.

"We had lots of interest, we only had one bid returned," Wilkinson said.

Although many companies expressed initial interest, because storage was included in the original bid specifications most companies couldn't provide sufficient space for the large volume of vehicles the city might need to tow.

"We've identified almost two dozens vehicles now, in the city, to be targeted for removal," Wilkinson said.

Councilman Mark Nienhueser wondered how the city could lower costs on this endeavor.

"If somebody wants to recover that vehicle, they're gonna have to pay all the charges?" Nienhueser asked.

Wilkinson confirmed that if the owner wants the vehicle back, he or she would have to pay for towing and storage. If the owner does not come to claim the vehicle after 90 days the tow company can receive a salvage title from the county clerk and dispose of the vehicle itself. This would leave the city on the hook for the tow bill.

The towing bill would be anywhere between $75-$100 depending on the difficulty of the tow. This is a very reasonable amount, in Wilkinson's opinion.

"Unfortunately that is a fee that we would simply eat," Wilkinson said. "That's the cost of going after that curb appeal. We would eat that tow bill in the event that they did not want that vehicle back."

Nienhueser wanted assurance that the vehicles would be stored out of public view.

The storage facility is on city owned property near the old land fill close to the city firing range. The city will use recycled material to fence this area, which will just be a manpower cost. It is about an acre of land.

"We've arranged for a storage facility of sorts that would not cost us anything," Wilkinson said.

Councilman Roger Gallaway questioned whether the city had an obligation to protect the vehicles in storage. The city does not have any liability, according to Wilkinson. Most of these vehicles are sitting out in all elements at this point anyway and are not in prime shape to begin with.

"It is in a secured facility, so it would prohibit public access," Wilkinson said. "But we have no liability that I'm aware of."

City attorney J. Leef agreed with Wilkinson that there was a statute already in place to protect the city when taking temporary possession of abandoned vehicles.

"I do believe that this is going to be very valuable for us in our efforts to try and keep the city clean and deal with some of the—basically the vehicles that have just been trashed, and allowed to sit" Leef said. "We just have not been able to do anything about it because we've had no place to store those vehicles or no place to move them."

The city had discussed this in the past, but this is the first time any official movement on the matter came before the council.

"This is new," said Sidney Mayor Wendall Gaston. "We've not really had a process to do this. It's been talked about for a long period of time, but through budget tightness through the years, we've just not really moved forward on it."

The police department's code enforcement officer worked in the last few weeks to identify vehicles in violation.

"She's begun to send the abatement notices giving people five days to make a decision as to what they want to do with vehicles that fit the criteria and some of those five day periods have already begun to expire," Wilkinson said.

It won't take very long for people to hear that the police are actually removing abandoned vehicles from property, he added.

"We'll probably have a number of those people in that initial two dozen who will decide that they would rather hold on to their car and then they would become voluntarily compliant with the ordinance," Wilkinson said.

When the city first considered bidding out this project, many were concerned about racking up fees at a facility to store the vehicles. But the owner at Affordable Towing suggested the city store the vehicles on its own property to save some money.

"He's really willing to work with us and keep our costs down," said city manager Gary Person.

The council suggested adopting a storage fee in the future, which would take further council action.

"The storage fees would offset the towing fee," Nienhueser said.

The mayor suggested that this might result in a no-cost process at some point.

Because the police give residents a five-day notice to do something with the vehicle in violation, if that person hasn't taken care of the problem within those five days, the likelihood of that person coming to pick up the car at the storage facility is very low, Wilkinson commented.

"We're gonna be on the hook for the car," he said.

Nienhueser was adamant that he didn't want other properties in possession of the owner of Affordable Towing to become salvage facilities and be an eyesore to Sidney.

"He has a separate facility in Lorenzo where he will salvage these vehicles," Wilkinson said.

The agreement between the city and the towing company will specify that all business related to this process has to comply with all city ordinances, Leef explained.

"If it doesn't comply with the ordinances, I would say that that is a material default and you can terminate the agreement," she said.

This would again put the city in tight spot between the choice of having the vehicles scattered around town or stored at one location.

"I don't want them ending up on Illinois Street," Nienhueser said.

All the councilmen wanted to make sure that the city doesn't become a storage facility for the towing company.

Once the company owns the vehicle, it would have to be moved at that time, Wilkinson said. The police must start the salvage title process and can enforce the tow company to remove the vehicle within five days, just like any other vehicle not in compliance with city code.

In the original bid specifications, the companies had to bid on both towing and storage for the vehicles.

Gallaway wondered if the whole matter needed to be re-bid with the specification that the city would store the vehicles instead of the tow company.

Leef did not think a re-bid was necessary.

"I think that you are within your discretion to negotiate other options," Leef said.

Gaston and Person agreed that the city should monitor how effectively this agreement works out, and to reconsider it in a year's time.

"We've been talking about this for well over a year, so I would hate to see it moved down the road again," Nienhueser said.

The council accepted Affordable Towing's bid for towing, but not storage—with the stipulation that the contract would run for one year with options to renew. It also required that all actions in the processes comply with city codes and that salvaged vehicles cannot be stored in Sidney.

"So we keep this thing moving and put the responsibility on the chief and the city attorney to write the contract with those," Nienhueser said.

 

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