Contract with call center to ensure towing equalityThere are about 1,000 calls for wreckers by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department each year. There are about 20 towing companies in the county. If one company appears to get preference over other companies, controversies are bound to arise.
By: By Laura Kruse, Staff Correspondent, River Falls Journal
There are about 1,000 calls for wreckers by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department each year. There are about 20 towing companies in the county. If one company appears to get preference over other companies, controversies are bound to arise.
“There has always been accusations of one company getting more tows than others. We’ve tried to manage it the best we can,” explained Chief Deputy Sheriff John Shilts.
Now, to ensure that no towing company gets preference over the others, the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department will begin contracting with Gold Cross, a call center out of Eau Claire, to distribute the no-preference tows equally among the local tow companies. The service begins July 1.
When a car needs to be moved from a roadside or accident scene in a non-emergency situation, the responding officer will ask the owner what towing company to call. If the owner doesn’t request anyone, the officer will tell St. Croix County dispatch to call Gold Cross and inform them that a no-preference tow is needed. The Gold Cross dispatcher will then dispatch the next-in-line towing company to the scene. The county has been divided into three zones for efficiency. Wreckers need to be at the scene in 30 minutes or less.
To avoid placing any burden on taxpayers, the cost of the service (around $240 per month) will be absorbed by the towing companies on the list. As of Tuesday morning, 18 companies had applied to be on the list but inspections were still being conducted.
“It (contracted service) will not cost the taxpayers anything,” Shilts assured.
Other than paying the fee, tow truck operators on the no-preference list must meet basic requirements set forth in the contract. Companies must have a legitimate place of business with posted hours and contact information, a published and staffed phone number, a secure storage facility, and proper licensing and insurance for all buildings, employees and vehicles. Standard tows cannot cost more than a $150 hook-up fee, $4 per load mile and a 20 percent fuel surcharge. Individuals with felony convictions are ineligible to be on the no-preference list, unless pardoned.
The sheriff’s office will periodically inspect the locations and vehicles. If minimum standards aren’t met, fees aren’t paid or other violations occur, the company will be removed from the no-preference list.
By requiring the standards, the sheriff’s department can better assure that the public is getting a reliable, safe and accountable service, Shilts said.
However, some of those requirements are where controversies arise among towing companies.
At a meeting on Tuesday, June 16, 17 tow owners and operators brought their concerns to each other, two sheriff’s deputies and one dispatch coordinator. The meeting was organized by the towing companies, not the sheriff’s department.
An issue repeatedly voiced was that business owners who have a parent company with satellite locations received an application for each site they own. Shilts said applications were sent to all towing and wrecker companies listed in the phone book or that have previously worked with the sheriff’s office. If those companies submit and gain approval for all the applications, they would get more no-preference tows than other companies in each rotation.
Some people say that’s not fair, especially if there isn’t a tow truck or employee at those satellites for the majority of a day.
Harold “Buster” Wolvert, owner of Buster’s Party Rental in Baldwin, said he thinks that any trucks registered for the location should be at the site for at least 20 hours each day and have permanent lettering. That way separate sites can’t claim the same truck for rotations in different zones. Additionally, Wolvert said he wants the sites to be staffed 40 hours each week.
When some companies turned in more than one application, some felt it was a slap in the face.
Ken Bessac, owner of GTK Services in New Richmond, said that about a year ago, a towers association was formed to resolve some of the issues among themselves. During the association’s discussions, they agreed they’d only use one company name on a no-preference list, Bessac said.
Due to disputes among the group, the sheriff’s department ended up setting standards to resolve issues instead.
Some companies went back on the handshake agreement to only use one name, Bessac said.
“We agreed to something and that’s what we stuck with,” Bessac said. “The next six months we’re going to have to live with that because we stuck with the agreement.”
The application deadline to get on the no-preference list has passed, Shilts said. However, companies can retract already submitted applications. The next application period will open in January 2010.
Bessac said next year some towing companies may open additional satellite offices just to be allowed more applications to level the playing field the next time around.
“The end result it may not be an issue itself. It’s just the idea that one company could have four (tows) to my one,” Bessac said.
Wolvert, on the other hand, said he has no problem with an owner getting on the no-preference list more than once, provided he is running multiple legitimate companies.
For example, Wolvert said, one towing company in the county is owned by a husband, while a separate company is owned by his wife. The companies share the location but have separate trucks and business names. The husband’s tow truck is not taken to a call when the wife’s company is called.
Tom Peterson of Roberts Towing said he didn’t apply to be on the no-preference tow list but does like the idea of contracting with Gold Cross to dispatch the towers. However, he’s still leery.
“My theory is it’s not going to change things,” he said. Peterson said he worries that officers will call wreckers on their own, rather than sending calls to Gold Cross.
His attendance at Tuesday’s meeting was to ensure his customers could still ask for his services by name, which they can. Consumers can also ask the responding officer for the closest or cheapest tow.
Bessac agreed that could be an issue as well.
“There’s an attitude that it’s still in the officer’s hands. That’s a piece that could also be an issue,” he said.
As far as businesses getting more than one turn per rotation, Peterson said it’s progress.
“Yea, I don’t like it but it’s progress. What can you do?” he questioned.
Wolvert said he’s advocating for the three-zone county map to be tweaked. Rather than having three zones, he would like to see at least four. That way, wreckers from Glenwood City wouldn’t have to tow cars from Baldwin.
Currently, Zone A includes St. Joseph, Hudson, Troy, Warren, and Kinnickinnic townships. Zone B is Somerset, Star Prairie, Richmond, Stanton, Erin Prairie and Cylon townships. Zone C covers Hammond, Pleasant Valley, Rush River, Emerald, Baldwin, Eau Galle, Forrest, Glenwood, Springfield and Cady townships.
“I want the consumer in the end to look it over and say ‘that’s good for us,’” Wolvert said.