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Changes to CBRM tow-truck licensing bylaw worry local companies (N.S.)

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Just days before the Cape Breton Regional Municipality sits down to discuss amendments to a proposed tow-truck licensing bylaw, many of the region’s towing companies are wondering why the municipality never reached out to them for input.

“They never, ever contacted anyone in the towing industry to ask what was going on,” said Ronnie Smith, co-owner of Smith’s Towing in Sydney. “How I found out they’re passing this bylaw was from someone at Baddeck Towing who posted it online.


“Everybody that’s been in this industry right now has been around for 40-plus years. And we were initially contacted about a year-and-a-half ago. But after that we couldn’t get any answers, so we don’t know if it’s going to go by a contract, or if they’re protecting the ones that have (a contract) now, is it going to go weekly or monthly? Nobody has any answers for us.”

What worries Smith, along with Stephen Jamael of Jamael’s Towing in Sydney and Louis Syms of J L Syms Towing & Recovery in New Waterford, is what added rules and costs could be put in place that might wind up putting major financial dents into an already pared-down group of companies just wanting to survive.


“I called up my insurance company to find out how much four flatbed tow trucks and a service truck would cost to be insured and I was told $27,000,” said Syms. “I’m paying three or four insurance policies on my vehicles – around $2,000 a month.”

“Now the municipality wants to make up their own laws and pricing for the towing. They can’t do that; that’s information that has to come down from the Department of Transportation in Halifax.”


Jamael and his wife, Carolyn, learned of some of the bylaw changes being proposed but feels too many restrictions could put their towing firm at serious risk.


For instance, “you want a tow-truck driver with five years’ experience; that’ll be hard to come by,” Jamael said. “You want to penalize us if we don’t have a fire extinguisher in our truck, if we don’t have chains in our truck, if our dolly wheels are flat. I have one truck that I’ve done about 30,000 calls, it has a wheel life and a winch, and I’ve been told this truck doesn’t qualify. It’s really discouraging to hear that.” 


The Cape Breton Post reached out to the municipality for input on the bylaw and why towing companies weren’t included in the decision-making on the bylaw and its amendments. CBRM Chief Administrative Officer Marie Walsh referred the request to the acting police chief. 


Last June, Cape Breton Regional Police Staff Sgt. Joe Farrell first brought up the idea of a municipal towing licence bylaw in a council meeting under former mayor Cecil Clarke’s leadership. 


At that time, Farrell recommended the CBRM needed to get out of the towing tender and administration business. He explained that the force had administered the towing tender, invoices and storage fees for collisions spanning several years, “and that (process) consumes a great deal of time for the traffic safety unit sergeant and clerical staff – which, in turn, translates into administrative costs,” he said.


Heather Llewellyn, director of the Roadside Responders Association of Nova Scotia, a provincial group representing the tow truck and impound industry, said she too is concerned that any tow truck licensing bylaw could impose unreasonable hiring guidelines and fees. She also feels that bylaw changes may reinforce problems between police and the towing industry.


"There’s two sides to every story," she said. "I understand the concerns of the insurance industry. There were meetings held … we (the RRA) met with them originally, then they met with the police department and the municipal council. Which is fine, they can do that. But you need to look at all sides of the situation.


“I don’t think council has properly done their research, and they have not listened to the other side of the story."



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