Blaine City Council members recently agreed that a full-blown request
for proposal (RFP) process might not be the best way to approach
contract towing services.
by Tim Hennagir
Blaine City Council members recently agreed that a full-blown request for proposal (RFP) process might not be the best way to approach contract towing services.
To date, city leaders have used RFPs to select cost-effective providers for three city services – waste hauling, banking and senior housing management.
However, during a Dec. 18 workshop, council members were divided on the towing services subject, eventually agreeing the issue needed more research.
The council directed city staff to put together a competitive process for other towing companies that might be interested in providing the service to the city.
Chris Olson, Blaine’s public safety manager and police chief, gave the council a brief summary of the city’s current practice for towing cars within the city.
The city currently does not have an official towing company, Olson said. Two different companies provide service based on a vehicle’s location.
According to Olson, police officers are given discretion, but the standard that’s currently in place divides the city along a north-south line drawn at 105th Avenue.
If tow service is needed north of 105th, then a duty officer will call Auto Medics Towing Service, which is located at 3731 Flowerfield Road in Lexington.
If assistance is needed south of 105th Avenue, Olson said that Blue Tow Service, Inc., 2535 85th Ave. N.E., Blaine, is dispatched to make the tow.
The draft RFP reviewed by the council during the workshop included a number of provisions related to towing, impounding and motor vehicle storage.
Olson told the council the city is considering a DWI forfeiture program and the needs associated with that program were also included in the RFP.
The draft RFP is based on a proposed five-year contract. It includes the requirement that a service provider be located within eight miles of Blaine City Hall.
A company selected according to the proposed RFP would have to store a minimum of two vehicles inside and a minimum of 50 vehicles outside.
In addition to other requirements in the draft document, a selected contractor would have to accommodate as many as 70 forfeited vehicles a year.
Service records, security of facilities, qualifications and experience and cost were other selection factors listed in the proposed RFP reviewed by council.
Councilmember Dave Clark asked Olson about potential costs for towing. The total contract for services would be under $10,000 annually, Olson said.
Councilmember Mike Bourke was concerned about response time of a provider selected according to an RFP, as well as experience and equipment used.
Councilmember Dick Swanson asked Olson questions about the use of private companies and property removal clause if the city did sign a written contract.
“I’d like to see some protection or a list of things people could remove from a car if it’s towed,” Swanson said, mentioning medicines, crutches and walkers.
The city’s Web site states Blaine police may tow vehicles in relation to an arrest or for evidence from any location. Cars are not towed from private property.
Olson told Swanson a resident can contact a private company of their choice when a vehicle needs a tow. “They can go ahead and call their own,” he said.
Mayor Tom Ryan said he wouldn’t support a switch to a written contract. “Each of companies now has a clear district. Contracts become political,” Ryan said.
According to Councilmember Katherine Kolb, the council might be getting too caught up in pushing RFPs as a catch-all measure for saving money.
“The current system isn’t broken,” Kolb said. “We are pushing too hard to become a big city. Maybe we are forgetting the importance of local businesses.”
Councilmember Wes Hovland asked Olson if there was some way a third company could become involved in a competitive selection process.
“Currently, we have two companies, one north and one south,” Hovland said. “Is that fair to all the other companies that can’t get a piece of the market?”
Clark was concerned about a verbal agreement as opposed to a written contract. He wanted other businesses to have a chance.
He struggled with the towing RFP as presented because the amount was $10,000 and the potential savings weren’t significant enough for the city, Clark said.
“The question, is how can the city help a business that wants a shot at this,” he said. “We have a closed process right now.”
Bourke agreed $10,000 was not enough for the city to worry about right now. The draft RFP wasn’t justifiable at this time, he said.
Ryan said residents can get vehicles towed by a company of choice in certain situations. Police call two companies and have done so for years, he said.
“I don’t want to get involved with taking complaints about who was selected,” Ryan said. “It enters you into one more political situation. That’s my opinion.”
Swanson said he didn’t think a towing services RFP was needed, but agreed with Clark in asking how a third party could be included in the overall process.
Having three companies working Blaine for towing services might not be cost-effectiveness since companies spend a time on-call, Bourke said.
Swanson suggested the towing issue be addressed during discussion at a future workshop. Other council members agreed.
“We can give some thought to a competitive process outside of an RFP,” said City Manager Clark Arneson. “We’ll do more research and bring it back.”
Tim Hennagir is at firstname.lastname@example.org.