Warren must stop plan for city impound lot

Warren’s proposed plan to implement a city-owned impound lot for towed automobiles will start the city down a slippery slope of policing for profit and will create government-run competition for tax-paying private industry within the city.

City leaders must stop discussions of the plan before it goes any further.

If Warren City Council and the administration agree, the plan would require that all vehicles ordered towed by city police would be sent to a city-run impound yard. Supporters say the plan would generate thousands of dollars in impound fees that would then be used to offset costs the city pays for the maintenance of police vehicles and possibly future police equipment.

But we remind those considering the measure that the role of government solely is to provide essential services for residents — not to compete with private industry.

It was only a few years ago when city leaders called for passage of a half-percent, five-year income tax to fund safety services and road improvements. Voters agreed and now the tax generates about $3 million per year, officials have said.

Now just about four years later, city officials apparently no longer believe that revenue is sufficient to allow them to live within their means.

A report provided to council recently indicates that Warren is experiencing an increasing number of vehicles being towed — 1,234 in 2018. It points to significant revenue being generated in communities like Niles with its city-run impound yard, and now some Warren officials want to get in on the action. Niles police Chief Jay Holland recently said the city towed 414 vehicles in 2019, generating $101,898 in net revenues.

Holland called it a success. We disagree.

We have argued consistently against public entities competing with private business — which is exactly what city-run impound yards do. Private tow companies that pay city taxes and rely on tows and impounds for their livelihood would suffer from the decision that could even lead to private-sector job loss.

Further, such methods of policing for profit would put the city on a slippery slope because suddenly officers could see benefits of increasing the number of ordered tows. City leaders would set the fee schedule, and city police would impose it with little or no checks and balances. Who is to say quotas might not be created in order to generate funds for police department use?

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

We see this as an entrepreneurial effort 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. Attempts to find ways to make easy money carefully should be considered and ultimately avoided.

Warren leaders should put aside this plan now, before it goes any further.