Tow Truck Operators to Cough up More Cash?

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SCRANTON -- Scranton's City Council is set to start listening to taxpayers' comments on the 2013 proposed budget Thursday at city hall, but one group of taxpayers has already been outspoken about changes in the budget.

Council members will do their first official reading of the 2013 budget proposal, and because of a few business owners who operate tow trucks for the city, a lot of the focus so far has been on just one line item in that budget proposal.

About 15 local small business owners started scratching their heads when they saw a line in Scranton's proposed 2013 budget. It calls for $300,000 in revenue from police towing and storage fees.

Business owners, including Jim Morrell, already provide towing service to the city. A list of towers pay Scranton for the privilege, and Morrell said it’s a big part of his business. If Scranton police took over the towing like the budget proposal suggests, he said it would hurt him and the other shops on the list.

“We feel as though putting the money forward, losing the contract," said Morrell, who owns Morrell’s Towing.

Morrell and others on the city's list of tow truck companies got together and came up with a plan. They said if the city wants more revenue when vehicles in Scranton need to be towed, the businesses will come up with that $300,000 on their own.

The towers went to Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and offered to pay five years worth of their membership fees at once, $10,000 each in order to give the city the money it needs now.

Other towers in Scranton said the city's demands put them in a tight spot. It will hurt them to pay more this year, but they also can't afford to lose the business.

“If this doesn't work were going to have egg on our faces here for the long run,” said Morrell.

It's the "long run" part of this plan that may become a problem. If the towing companies pay up front that means they wont pay for the four following years. Morrell said what the city does from here is up to them.

“The city's in dire straits, and they need the money up front, and that's our offer,” said Morrell.

Mayor Doherty wouldn't comment about the deal with the towing companies because he said it is not finalized yet. So far, he said there isn't any specific plan to have police officers take over towing. His budget proposal needs to be approved by city council by the middle of December.