Towing regulations will be up for approval at Hilton Head Island Town Council's first meeting in April after months of debate and revisions.
The town's Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend Town Council set caps on fees for towing vehicles from private property, a provision similar to Beaufort County's. Hilton Head officials were waiting for the county to approve its ordinance before considering their own.
Like the county ordinance, the town's would limit fees for cars towed from private property without the owners' consent to $200. It also would set a maximum fee of $75 if the owner returns before the vehicle is attached to the tow truck and $100 if the vehicle has already been attached. It also requires companies to accept cash or a credit card to release the vehicle, either on-site or at their storage lot, which must be within the town.
Storage fees would be capped at $40 per day beginning after the fist 24 hours a vehicle enters the lot.
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The fees would be reviewed regularly by the town manager and adjusted at his discretion based on economic conditions, such as increases in fuel prices.
Towing companies are already required to have storage lots on the island if they've been called to tow on Hilton Head by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office or S.C Highway Patrol, town staff attorney Brian Hulbert said.
"None of the towing companies objected to that because they already have storage lots on the island," Hulbert told the committee. "They also saw it as a way of keeping distant wrecker services from coming in here and taking their business."
Companies that violate the ordinance would be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a $25 to $100 fine or up to 30 days in jail. Council could also revoke a company's business license for repeat violations, Hulbert said.
Towing company owners said they support the revisions made to previous drafts of the ordinance, namely the higher caps on fees, which now mirror regulations for unincorporated Beaufort County.
"Everything looks good to me. I'm totally happy with it," Advance Automotive & Towing owner Chuck Padgett said.
Stricter control of towing companies was proposed after a 2010 Christmas Eve shooting near Bluffton, in which tow-truck driver Preston Oates is accused of killing Carlos Alberto Olivera, 34, during an argument over a wheel boot Oates had placed on Olivera's minivan.
The ordinance recommended by the Public Safety Committee would not prohibit use of the wheel boots, which are used by some plantation security forces on Hilton Head, such as Sea Pines, to discourage illegal parking. Previous versions prohibited their use unless directed by law enforcement.
Several people also complained last summer that their cars were towed from a business on Hilton Head's Main Street while dining at a nearby restaurant. Some said they paid more than $300 to retrieve their cars.
Councilman and committee chairman Bill Harkins said the regulations would ensure towing operations are fair.
"I think we've created a reasonable towing template and price structure that responds to the needs of our residents and tourists," Harkins said. "And one that reflects input and support of the towing companies, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and plantation security and management."
Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.