It has taken more than three years, but Brookfield police starting in January will begin collecting a $500 administrative fee when they tow vehicles involved in criminal offenses. Village trustees are expected to pass an ordinance establishing the new fee at their meeting on Aug. 8.
While other non-home-rule communities, like Riverside and North Riverside, have had such fees in place for years, Brookfield officials waited to do it until the Illinois General Assembly passed a law that specifically allows all municipalities – not just home-rule entities – to impose the fee.
“Quite simply, this is just a way of recouping expenses,” said Village President Michael Garvey. “When our officers make these arrests for misdemeanors and felonies that involve motor vehicles, there is some expense there.
“Our officers have to stay with the vehicle, inventory the vehicle, process the paperwork for the vehicle. And oftentimes, when you have situations where there’s a large arrest or larger incident, there could be multiple cars; it does take a lot of down time and it’s a lot of paperwork.”
While the towing company will eventually get reimbursed for the tow and storage fees, prior to the imposition of this administrative fee, the village had little power to recoup any expenses related to processing those kinds of arrests.
“This is a way we can recover those expenses,” Garvey said.
The law spells out the kinds of offenses under which Brookfield will be able to collect the fee, including prostitution, weapons and drug-related offenses, driving on a revoked or suspended license, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fleeing and eluding police, reckless driving and street racing.
The fee is imposed against the owner of the vehicle, not simply the driver. In order for the owner to recover the vehicle, he would have to pay the village’s $500 fee in addition to whatever costs the towing company charges before the vehicle is released.
The money the village expects to recoup on an annual basis is not insignificant. Village Manager Riccardo Ginex told trustees that he expects the fee to result in “close to $100,000 within a year.” That money can be put toward general operating costs for the village.
During its 2010-11 fiscal year, North Riverside projected collecting $111,600 for its administrative towing fee.
Riverside, through its towing fee, collected $92,000 in 2009 and $116,000 in 2010. As of June 30, Riverside had already collected $75,000 in 2011.
Anyone who wants to challenge the fee can seek a hearing in front of the village’s adjudicator. Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel says that’s rare. Since 2007, when Riverside imposed their fee, they’ve averaged about two hearings per year, Weitzel said.
Last year, Riverside refunded the fee twice. Once was for a warrant arrest, where the arrestee was able to prove the warrant was not valid at the time of the arrest. The other was someone arrested for driving on a revoked out-of-state-license. That person was later able to prove that Illinois was never notified that his license had been reinstated.
Simply getting cleared of the offense in court isn’t enough to waive the administrative towing fee, Weitzel said.
“As long as the arrest was lawful, it doesn’t matter what happens in court,” Weitzel said. “The only way we’d do it is if a judge said the premise of the stop was not valid from the get-go, and that’s never happened to us.”
The bill was filed by state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-21st) and had co-sponsorship in the state Senate by two more Brookfield-area legislators, Steve Landek (D-11th) and Ron Sandack (R-21st). Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new law on July 14. It becomes effective Jan. 1, 2012.
The idea for imposing the fee in Brookfield first surfaced in 2008 as trustees tried to find additional sources of revenue. At the time, however, Village Attorney Richard Ramello advised against doing it, saying non-home-rule communities didn’t have the authority. Doing so, he explained would leave the village open to litigation.
Weitzel said Riverside reasoned it had the authority to impose the fee using the community caretaker doctrine, which was the result of federal case law regarding searches and seizures.
While an arrestee’s vehicle could be legally parked on the street, police choose to tow it to avoid liability for the vehicle if it is then burglarized, stolen or struck by another vehicle after being left there by police.