Niles policing for exorbitant profit is wrong

It always has been inconvenient and costly to get your car impounded, but new moves by the city of Niles and private tow companies have increased the fees residents pay and made a business out of impounding cars.

Niles collected nearly $220,000 since creation of its impound lot in April 2016. This newfound revenue is being used to supplement the city’s police budget and enabling the purchase of new equipment.

In 2017, the first full year of collections, $142,885 was collected, including $83,211 in fees and $59,674 in the sales of unclaimed vehicles.

If your car is towed to the Niles impound lot, here is what you can expect to pay. First the towing companies charge the vehicle owner for the tow. That can include an additional upcharge because it is considered a “priority tow.” Then the city charges people a $75 administrative fee for storage plus a $25 to $100 fee per day, depending on the type of vehicle towed. Passenger cars are charged $25 a day, boats $50 and semi trucks or dump trucks $100 per day.

We have argued consistently against public entities competing with private business — which is exactly what this city-run impound yard is doing — but it appears the private tow companies haven’t lost out completely because they’ve instead tacked on additional fees for what they are calling “priority tows” when called by police to tow a car to the tow yard.

City leaders have set their fee schedule and then city police impose it. There is no checks and balances and no way to challenge whether the tow or the impound was justified, since it’s the city that handles enforcement, then acts as judge, jury and collection agency.

And for those residents who simply can’t afford to pay the high fees, the city claims ownership of the vehicle and sells them at auction, leaving the motorist to forfeit ownership.

If your car is impounded, you better act quickly because if it is not retrieved within just 10 days, the city is legally permitted to claim a salvage title and sell the vehicle via online auction.

So what do city officials think about all this?

They love it!

In fact, Niles Safety Director George Kaniclides described it as “one of the best things the city has ever come up with.”

As if that’s not enough, now the city is creating new ways of generating excess funds from unsuspecting parking ordinance violators.

Late last month, Niles council approved ordinances increasing fines for overnight parking from $10 to $25, or if not paid within five days, the fine goes from the original $20 now to $50.

Fines of $10 for parking on streets during emergency bans are now raised to $50. Those increases came after urging by new Niles Municipal Court Judge Chris Shaker and police Chief Jay Holland.

We see all these efforts as nothing less than entrepreneurial efforts to raise revenue through penalties and fees after maxing out the amount of levy money local residents are willing or able to pay.

It is nothing less than policing for exorbitant profit and it is simply wrong.