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Those pesky tow fees

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Those pesky tow fees

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
April 15, 2013

The Northwest Herald carried a long article yesterday about the administrative tow fees that are the rage of McHenry County. If you hurry, you can still read it online; click on the link. After a week, you'll have to figure out how to get around the Herald's desire to nail you for $2.95 to read it (hint: use your Woodstock Library card to access newspaper archives without a fee).

The article reports that 15 jurisdictions in McHenry County now nail drivers a extortion-level fee for "paperwork" connected with their arrest. In addition to the $500 fee common in many, if not most, of the municipalities, a driver will be forced to pay tow fees and, probably, storage before he can get his car or truck back.

One towing company told me that about 10% of the drivers cannot recover their cars, because they cannot afford to pay the costs. Municipalities require payment of the $500 "fee" (or a $500 bond) before releasing the vehicle, and then the driver or owner must cough up the tow fee and storage costs.

And all that before the case comes up in court. After all, at $40/day storage, how long will you leave your car in the storage lot?

An extremely unfair provision in Woodstock's ordinance is that you cannot get your $500 back, even if your case is thrown out of court. Let's say that the cop is sloppy about writing your ticket or the City's prosecutor realizes they really don't have a case. Let's say that the case drags on for 2-3-4 months' worth of continuances, and the City's prosecutor finally indicates that he doesn't intend to prosecute, and the judge then dismisses the case.

Can you get your $500 back? Nope! The lawyers for the City of Woodstock wrote the ordinance so that a driver or owner can only get his $500 back, IF there is a trial and IF the defendant is found Not Guilty.

So, if there is no trial, there is no refund. This is the same law firm that the City uses to prosecute cases.

Does the public really understand this?

How much has the City of Woodstock removed from the wallets of its own residents and others traveling through the City? The first impound fees were collected in February 2012 (from January arrests). In the first month "only" $2,500 was collected. At $500 each, that would represent five vehicles.

But then the Woodstock cops got with the program, and in March 2012 administrative fees of $16,000 were collected (for February arrests)!

Month of Arrest
January $2,500
February $16,000
March $10,000
April $10,500
May $6,000
June $10,000
July $10,000
August $6,500
September $8,500
October $6,500
November $8,500
December $8,000
January $5,000
February $7,500

In 14 months of the new ordinance, Woodstock has raked in $105,500!!! (The Woodstock police chief had estimated $25,000 in their first year of this fee.)

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