Contentious impound contract awarded to Lash-Berg Towing, lesson learned by city

What turned out to be a controversial impound and towing RFP process in North Battleford was settled Monday evening.

At City Hall, North Battleford city council voted unanimously to authorize a five-year agreement with Lash-Berg Towing of Battleford.

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The agreement is a revenue-sharing contract where Lash-Berg would be sole-contracted for towing services to the city’s Community Safety Officers and RCMP, and to operate a municipal impound on 114th Street. Administration has estimated revenues to the city would be upwards of $100,000.

But the RFP was contentious, as another local company Vista Towing was vocal in opposition. Vista Towing supported continuing the current policy, which is to allow vehicles to be picked up by the existing local towing companies, with no revenue sharing.

At the council meeting in August, owner Dave Washburn submitted a number of documents. One requested a public meeting on the issue, while the other was a petition in support of Washburn signed by 97 people.

That latter petition stated the City “should not be interfering in private enterprises,” and that “issuing this RFP is requesting for a kick back from private enterprises for the privilege of operating in the City of North Battleford.”

In the end the city ruled none of the signed documents submitted by Washburn met the requirements for a valid petition that the city could be required to act upon.

Director of Legislative Services Debbie Wohlberg determined that only 73 signatures could be counted as electors of the city of North Battleford, well short of the 678 signatures that would have been required for the petition to be deemed sufficient.

City Manager Randy Patrick further elaborated in his remarks as he pointed out that several people had withdrawn their names from the petition.

Of the 97 businesses who signed, 18 had formally written to the City to retract their names, 13 verbally retracted their names, and 19 businesses on the list were not city businesses, of which two had retracted their participation. 

These retractions came about after the city had contacted about 50 names in the petition. “We saw that there was a trend, and we stopped there,” Patrick said.

For his part, Washburn submitted a letter to the News-Optimist prior to Monday’s meeting. He explained 20 of the signatures were from “managers or representatives who although they believed in and supported this cause, may or may not have had the authority to sign on behalf of their respective business.” He acknowledged this may have caused some hardship to employees, and offered “my sincere apology to those affected.”

“That still leaves 75 business owners who spoke out loud and clear that they did not approve of the city’s actions,” Washburn further stated. 

Council had tabled the motion on the RFP at their last meeting in August. This time, councillors one by one announced they would support the recommendation to award it to Lash-Berg Towing.  

“It’s an innovative way that the community can put together another revenue stream that we do not have to go to the taxpayers for. This is raised by people that are breaking the law doing certain things or have to pay parking tickets, and it’s something that we can generate some revenue from to help cover the costs of the recovery of those vehicles,” said Councillor Greg Lightfoot.

Lightfoot also said if it didn’t work out after a few years the city could go a different route. “I think it’s worth a try, give it a shot.”

Mayor Ryan Bater suggested revenues generated through the impound ought to be directed specifically towards funding additional law enforcement. “If there’s a way to direct that into additional law enforcement, it’s an innovative way not to have to go to the property taxpayer in order to do that.”

Councillor Kent Lindgren said he would support it as well, but added he also supports the community’s right of members of the public to present petitions. If there was a valid petition, the community is right to bring those forward.

“I think it’s a valuable part of our democracy,” said Lindgren.

Lindgren also said a lesson learned through the process was “how we communicate some of this to our community, and how we talk about initiatives we are looking at.”

 

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