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City Eliminates Impound Lot Burden from Covington Police Workload

A change in the way impounded cars are handled in Covington will take the task off the hands of the city's police department. The city commission approved this week a contract with Jess & Sons Towing who has long handled official tow jobs for the city and will now also manage the impound lot.

Jess & Sons is located on Shaler Street. The city's impound lot is currently on 43rd Street in Latonia but will not be used in this new arrangement.

Last year, the city tow contract went out for bid but was eventually pulled and not brought up again publicly until Tuesday night. An Erlanger company was set to receive the contract last year.

"For the longest time we were an impound lot operation where we had a civilian manager. Over the course of the last five years we've eliminated those positions from the city budget, filling the position with a police cadet," said Covington Police Chief Spike Jones. Trouble is, the police department is currently down to just one cadet. "It makes it difficult to run a full-time impound operation with one cadet, so we've been putting an officer in there."

"The amount of work with running an impound lot causes us to pay more attention to it and leaves is thin having to assign a patrol officer who would normally be on the street interacting with the public."

The officer that typically mans the impound lot is one assigned to what the department refers to as "light duty", one who may be injured and unable to perform all facets of their position. No officer was ever pulled from regular patrol to work at the impound lot, Jones said.

City finance director Bob Due explained the expense and revenue of owning and manning an impound lot. Each time the police tow and impound a car, the owner of the vehicle has to pay for the tow and the storage. If a car goes unclaimed, the city can auction it off but the proceeds from those sales do not go into the general fund but rather toward the old police and fire pension systems managed by the city, as mandated by state law.

Proceeds from the auctions fluctuate from year to year. In the 2007-08 fiscal year, the city collected nearly $160,000 from auctions. In 2011-12, less than $90,000. The number of tows each year and the associated revenue & expenses are also unpredictable. In 2004-05, more than 1,400 cars were towed while in 2011-12, there were only 671.

That pension system requires $320,000 in contributions each year for the next twenty years in order to make it solvent. With the city no longer collecting revenue from auctioned cars, that pension money is going to have to come from somewhere. Due explained that the city will present a plan for the old pension system in May.

The decision to award the contract to Jess & Sons received only three votes (out of a possible five). City Commissioner Michelle Williams opposed the order. "This is one housekeeping item left over from the previous commission that I don't think I'm going to help clean up," she said. Commissioner Mildred Rains offered a "present, not voting". Mayor Sherry Carran and Commissioners Chuck Eilerman and Steve Frank voted to approve the contract.

An order that followed agreed to hold the police and firefighters pension fund harmless in this new arrangement. That was approved unanimously.

While there are still details to work out in this new deal (assistant city solicitor Bryce Rhoades said that the city and the tow company are close to an agreement), Chief Jones is happy with the change. "I'm optimistic that it is out best possible option at this time," Jones said. "I think it's a simpler solution. It's easier for citizens to deal with the tow company directly. It's a little more cut and dry and easier to explain. I'm really optimistic that this is going to be a great program for us."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Covington Police cruiser in Devou Park/Jason Gray of Covington PD via Facebook