Tuesday, October 6, 2009

OK Wreckers May Get Rate Hike

Here's a story from the Tahlequah Daily Press:

Wrecker operators across the state have gone to lawmakers asking them to consider a 25 percent across-the-board rate hike when they’re called to the scene of a crash or other incident by law enforcement.

Local lawmakers have no problem with giving the rate hike a look, and wrecker service owners in Cherokee County think it’s time for the legislature to act on the request. The increase would be for the hourly rate and mileage.

“It’s been discussed over the years,” said State Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah. “It’s something we probably need to look at.”

The rates haven’t gone up since 2004, according to the Associated Press.

“Fuel prices and insurance costs have gone up in the last five years,” said Mac Martin, owner of Tahlequah Towing. “Fuel prices have fallen some, but our salaries didn’t go up during that time.”

Martin said wreckers occasionally need repairs too. He said he used to operate two wreckers and had another driver, but now it’s just him and one wrecker.

Devin Gordon, owner of Cherokee County Wrecker Service, echoed Martin’s sentiments.

“It’s hard to say what they [legislature] might do,” he said. “I sure hope they look favorably at it. It would be nice to have some more money kind of like a pay raise.”

Gordon, whose service is on West 720 Road, said his workload depends on how active law enforcement is with stopping vehicles and working crashes. He said local wrecker services are called on a rotation basis when called by law enforcement. There are times when a driver will be asked whether he has a wrecker preference.

Sen. Don Barrington, D-Lawton, called a hearing on the issue recently, the AP said, and says the bill could be heard on the Senate floor next year.

State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, said he’s ready to consider the issue if and when it makes it to the House chamber.

“It’s worth a review to kind of see where we’re at,” he said. “Diesel costs have come back down, but we’ve had a lot of jobs where people are going through tough times.”

One Tulsa area wrecker service operator said his costs have jumped more than 35 percent since the last increase. Larger wreckers can cost $500,000, he said.

Martin, whose service is located along the Illinois River, said he’s hopeful the legislature will approve a rate increase for him and other wrecker operators, but knows it may be a tough sell.

“This is probably not the best of times to ask for an increase,” he said. “We may have been more successful asking a couple of years ago.”

Martin said he sometimes considers the distance of the tow because of the costs associated with operating a wrecker. He charges $3 a mile for vehicles weighing 8,000 pounds or less on top of the $65 hookup.

“I can make a lot more going to Chicken Creek and getting one than I can if it’s right out here in front of the shop,” he explained.

Operators in nearby Arkansas can charge $150 for the same service, but in New Mexico a light-duty hookup costs $55.

Wrecker operators set their fees for service calls requested by motorists when vehicles break down or have a flat tire, fees for calls ordered by law enforcement are controlled by the Legislature.

The agencies routinely call wrecker services to haul away vehicles involved in collisions or cases in which the driver is arrested for driving under the influence or some other offense.

Wilson said he may ask to look at storage fees if the rate increase is considered. He doesn’t want the storage fees to be devastating. Martin said he doesn’t think the storage fees are unreasonable considering wrecker services are responsible for a vehicle if it’s damaged on their property.

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