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City panel tables approval of new towing contract

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The Indianapolis Board of Code Enforcement put off voting on a new citywide towing-management contract Thursday after members said they wanted more information about the bids from San Francisco-based AutoReturn and its local competitors.

“In light of what’s happened in city government in the last week, we need more oversight,” board member Susan Blair said, referencing the federal indictments of two Department of Metropolitan Development employees alleged to have accepted kickbacks in Land Bank deals.

Code enforcement staff is recommending AutoReturn for a five-year contract to manage about 29,000 city-ordered tows per year. Currently, three local firms, Last Chance Wrecker, Wheeler's and Hanna's, split most of the towing work according to their assigned zones, which align with police districts.

AutoReturn uses GPS technology to deploy local towing subcontractors under what would be a brand-new system, which is supposed to streamline the service. The management contract would consolidate city towing services under one manager for the first time, said Kate Johnson, deputy director of the Department of Code Enforcement. AutoReturn already has worked out deals with local subcontractors, some of which would have their first chance to earn city business, she said.

The city would be guaranteed revenue of $1.5 million a year under terms of the request for proposals issued in December. Code enforcement officials would not discuss terms of AutoReturn’s proposal or name the other bidders.

Marc Lloyd, an attorney representing Last Chance, said his client was one of three local firms that bid. He didn’t know the names of the other two.

The city averages about $1.2 million per year in towing revenue, which comes from a $45 fee that the contracted firms pay when they receive a referral from police. The money flows to the Department of Public Safety and offsets the cost of police officers' time, Johnson said.

The fee to vehicle owners on all city-ordered tows is capped at $90.

Code enforcement spokesman Adam Baker said he could not discuss whether that fee would increase under AutoReturn’s proposal.

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  • Another OOS Firm!
    Could we really not find a local firm to handle towing for the city? Last year we awarded a 15 year Lottery management contract to a company in Rhode Island. Guess our city/state leaders don't think Indiana based companies are sophisticated enough to handle their contracts. What other state/city contracts have been awarded to out of state owned companies?
  • Rates
    It's interesting that Adam Baker could not discuss if the towing fee would increase. Of course it will increase, you're adding an out of state middleman.
  • Forgot to mention...
    Another thought, how do we really think doing something like this will effect the employment rate here in Indy? Do we think San Fran really cares what OUR unemployment rate is... Doubt it... This would definitely send some local companies right into the ground. Lets not kick more Hoosiers lives upside down.
    • Why would we do this?
      Why is the city not looking at the other proposals. GPS is not new technology, it's being used already in our city. There's no reason to put money in to San Fran, when it would make more sense and be easier to put it right back here in Indy. So what we all really want to know is who's pockets are getting fat off this one.
    • Get Real John
      The California company hired Barnes & Thornburg lobbyists. B&T all but runs the Mayor's Office. Did you expect a different result?
    • Hire Local!!!!!!!!
      See, another Land Bank! Just hire a local towing firm!!!!!!!!!!!! Why give San Fran more money, they have enough! All these HOOSIERS need work and the city hires a firm in San Fran to tow cars?!?!? This is stupid!

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