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Sunday, August 31, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Fog
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A tug-of-war over towing contract
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If you have an accident or your car breaks down, you may appreciate getting advice from police on which towing company to call - at least until you get the bill.

Madison recently accepted proposals for its four-year towing contract, which will begin Oct. 1. City staff is recommending a bid by Prairie Land Towing - yet to be approved by the Common Council - that offers the bargain-basement rate of $1 a tow for any city-owned vehicle.

But private motorists won't get such a sweet deal. They'll have to pay $145 to be towed by Prairie Land.

Prairie Land's bid is $60,000 cheaper than the city's current contract with Schmidt's Auto, says Randy Whitehead, who works in the city's purchasing department, and $90,000 cheaper than Schmidt's new bid. Schmidt's proposal offered a sliding rate to private vehicles of $60 to $150, depending on whether it's an accident or a disabled vehicle. The city would pay $60 for vehicles under 15,000 pounds and $150 for vehicles weighing more under Schmidt's bid.

The towing contract is good for business because the winning company can expect referrals. Whitehead says that when police respond to an accident or a disabled vehicle, they offer motorists the choice to call any towing company they want. "If they don't have any preference, we say, 'This is who we use.'"

In an Aug. 26 letter to the city, Schmidt attorney Michael Christopher protested the staff nod to Prairie Land: "They have tempted the city staff by stating that they will tow a city-owned vehicle for a $1, but at the same time to excessively charge the public for the towing services."

Christopher estimated the public would pay $343,000 more a year to Prairie Land.

Todd Menzel, vice president of Wisconsin Operations at Prairie Land, denies that his company would gouge private motorists. He says Schmidt had raised its rates in several areas and that Prairie Land is offering more accountable reporting of the vehicles it tows. He adds that other Wisconsin cities have similar agreements.

"We're saving the city money and helping out the community," Menzel says. "[Schmidt's] bid will prove more expensive than ours."

On Tuesday, Ald. Tim Bruer put the contract on file. He says it's possible the city may extend Schmidt's contract for another year.

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