The Town of Hilton Head Island might follow Beaufort County's lead by adopting tow-truck regulations.
Officials were waiting for the county to approve an ordinance before considering their own rules to prevent companies from towing vehicles from private property.
Councilman Bill Harkins, chairman of the town's Public Safety Committee, said staff is reviewing the recently passed county ordinance and that town staff attorney Brian Hulbert could have a report in time for the committee's next meeting in August.
"We need to assess whether a similar ordinance would be appropriate for the island," Harkins said Thursday.
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Beaufort County Council approved its ordinance June 13. It includes a cap on some fees.
Stricter control of towing companies was proposed after a Christmas Eve shooting near Bluffton, in which tow-truck driver Preston Oates is accused of killing a man during an argument over a wheel boot Oates had placed on his minivan. Oates, co-owner of Pro Tow, was jailed and charged with voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime for allegedly shooting and killing Bluffton resident Carlos Alberto Olivera, 34.
The new rules made those boots illegal, but only in unincorporated Beaufort County.
The ordinance also caps fees for cars towed from private property and sets a $75 maximum fee if the owner returns before the vehicle is attached to the tow truck. The maximum fee is $100 if the vehicle has already been attached.
Recently, several individuals have complained about their cars being towed from a business on Hilton Head's Main Street while dining at a nearby restaurant.
The restaurant's parking lot was full, so diners parked in an adjacent lot where no parking signs were posted. However, one couple contends that it was after business hours and the lot was nearly empty.
Tony Rodolakis, of Hilton Head, said he and his wife had to travel 15 miles and pay $325 to retrieve their car at 11 p.m. June 29.
"What if we had been tourists with a young family attempting to retrieve our vehicle at 11 p.m. at a remote and potentially dangerous towing location?" Rodolakis asked in an email to The Island Packet. "Not an ideal scenario from a tourist safety and public relations standpoint."
Harkins said towing operations on the island should be handled fairly to protect residents and visitors.
The county's ordinance, in most cases, makes it unlawful to tow a vehicle from private property without authorization from the county or a law enforcement agency. An exception applies to businesses with no-parking signs warning drivers that vehicles will be towed at their expense. Signs must also contain a phone number to call to have the car released.
Before towing a car without the owner's consent, the company must get written authorization from the property owner and call the Sheriff's Office with vehicle information, the address from which it was towed, the reason for the towing and where it can be claimed by its owner.
Property owner associations are not allowed to set their own rules for their private roads if they use public law enforcement.
Island towing companies say the regulation is not needed and oppose any caps on fees. Many items in the ordinance already are covered under state law, they argue. But in the end, they say passing a similar ordinance on Hilton Head won't have much effect on their operations.
"It regulates illegally parked vehicles, which we don't do a lot of. When we do, we charge the same price as the fees included in the (county's) ordinance," said Josh Sigler, owner of Palmetto Towing and Recovery. "It won't affect us much. But, personally, I don't really think this is a problem to be regulated on the island. And the cost of business is a lot higher in this area than others, in terms of capping fees."
Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.