By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- Months after the previous towing contractor abruptly shut down, city leaders have a new wrecker company on board.
After receiving two bids for the city's towing contract, the City Council voted 3-2 to award the contract to Daytona Beach-based Fryer's Towing Service, which bid a monthly base rate of about $8,100. The city has been without a towing company since its previous contractor, A&A Wrecker, suddenly closed its business in November, but not without owing the city thousands of dollars for past service.
Some council members expressed concerns about the length of time it would take for Fryer's to respond, given the city's wrecker contract states the contractor must respond within 20 minutes.
"If (Fryer's) are serving anywhere past the interstate or South Williamson, they're in double-digit miles," said Vice Mayor Don Burnette, who with Councilman Drew Bastian voted against awarding the contract to Fryer's.
Assistant City Manager Shannon Lewis said Fryer's and Universal met all the bid specifications. She added both companies' tow yards met the contract's requirement that the facility must be at least five miles from the city limits.
Public safety director Gerald Monahan said there would be penalties involved if the new tower fails to respond to a call for service within 20 minutes. The first offense carries a fine of $50; future offenses result in greater penalties and may lead to termination of the contract.
He said his personal preference would have been for the new wrecker contract to be awarded to a local bidder. Both Fryer's and Universal were previously considered about three years ago but lost to A&A due to the company's low bid and its location within city limits.
"I would prefer to see the company closer, but it is what it is," Mr. Monahan said.
But representatives of Universal, whose main tow yard is in Holly Hill, tried to sway council members away from Fryer's by highlighting their south compound at U.S. 1 in Port Orange and their service to the city under their contract with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office after A&A went under.
Representatives said Universal voluntarily paid the city $50 for each car towed while it was served under the Sheriff's Office contract.
Before the council's vote, Universal representative Ray Joy sent a memo to city staff that claimed awarding the contract to Fryer's would cost the city money in excess miles needed for a police officer to drive to the Daytona Beach compound, as well as any additional revenue for auto body and repair shops within Port Orange. He also said Universal would be able to provide a faster response because Universal has a compound within city limits. Universal's bid was about $6,700 per month, $1,400 less than Fryer's bid.
But most council members went ahead with Fryer's despite the concerns about distance.
Councilman Bob Ford summed up the majority opinion by saying: "When you start playing the numbers game, it is indeed difficult to ever make a sensible argument one way or the other. A card laid is a card played. We made a decision. The people bid in good faith, and if you've bid things on good faith there's not much I can do about it."
Meanwhile, city staff is pursuing legal options to recover revenue owed by A&A. Around the time the business shut down last fall, city staff discovered A&A owed the city $146,000 for 31 months of service. The gaffe was uncovered as an investigation of a water billing undercharge that cost the city more than $1 million was in progress.
City Attorney Margaret Roberts recently said she is in the process of filing a claim on the bond the city had with A&A for the initial year of the contract, and City Manager Ken Parker said a letter was sent to A&A's owners demanding payment. Staff received no response to the demand letter, Mr. Parker said.
In other business, the City Council approved a rezoning of the former Port Orange Six movie theater on Nova Road from Planned Commercial Development to Community Commercial for a future development. Councilors also revised rental fees for the city's ball fields, reducing peak and non-peak rates by $5 to match what Volusia County charges and adding a field-chalking fee of $10 for each application.