Chief Johnson

New Johnstown police Chief Robert Johnson speaks at his office at the Public Safety Building in Johnstown Wednesday, July 5, 2017.

New and more comprehensive requirements will be in place next year for companies that want to tow vehicles for the City of Johnstown.

On Wednesday, the four Johnstown City Council members present at a regular monthly meeting – Mayor Frank Janakovic, Deputy Mayor Marie Mock, Ricky Britt and the Rev. Sylvia King – voted in favor of an ordinance that overhauled the regulations.

The 10-page document, which was written by Johnstown Police Department Chief Robert Johnson, replaced older guidelines that supporters of the changes considered outdated.

“The old ordinance was exceptionally vague, very limited,” Johnson said.

“This new ordinance spells out everything from that it has to be inspected by the city police, it has to be signed off on by the city manager, that type of thing.”

King added: “In the first place, the ordinance that we did have really was not extensive enough. I really don’t think it outlined enough of the issues dealing with parking and towing, so I applaud the chief for taking the initiative and putting together an extensive ordinance that outlines what the rules are. It’s more inclusive the way it is now.”

Some of the changes are:

• All towing companies and their storage facilities used for impoundment must now be located within the city.

• Owners and wrecker operators need to pass criminal background checks and can be excluded for violations, including, but not limited to, homicide, kidnapping, sexual offenses, burglary, theft, theft by deception, receiving stolen property, forgery, tampering with records of identification, deceptive business practices and insurance fraud.

• Storage facilities must comply with zoning regulations and shall be – at minimum – enclosed by secured fencing or a building.

Councilman Ricky Britt said the new regulations will help “save a lot of headaches.”

Johnson modeled the rules after those used by Altoona, Lancaster and the Pennsylvania State Police and made sure the modifications fit with Pennsylvania HB 1762 that provided legal standards for towing.

“We had to establish an ordinance which was modern and more in compliance with the state regulations governing towing and storage of vehicles,” Johnson said. “We had a prior ordinance that was in place for a number of years that was not modern.”

For years, two companies – Brat Towing & Recovery and McQuaide Cernic’s Towing – removed damaged, abandoned, immobilized and illegally parked vehicles for the city, separating the territory into east and west with the Stone Bridge as the dividing line.

Earlier this year, former City Manager George Hayfield added two new companies – Eastmont Auto Repair and Sales, which is located outside of the city proper, and Roxbury Tire Center – despite concerns expressed by the chief at the time, according to Johnson. Getting more towers required the creation of an unofficial rotation system that has since been formalized with the new ordinance.

“Once we added additional towing services on, the shortcomings of that ordinance were more readily identified,” Johnson said.

The chief continued: “The problem is there were a number of things in the ordinance that weren’t addressed.

“As a result, we started having several problems because of the shortcomings in the existing ordinance. What I set out to do was to develop an ordinance that was being utilized by several similar-sized municipalities that really put the best practices foot forward in all of them, so we have a more equitable towing policy in place, as well as not dropping a salvage yard in the middle of a residential area or creating other issues for us that may come about because of it.”

The licenses are issued on a year-to-year basis, so the application process for 2020 will soon begin.

Don Spory, McQuaide Cernic’s towing operations manager, does not expect the new guidelines to affect his company much.

“There are some minor changes that we’re going to have to make as a company to remain compliant to be licensed,” Spory said. “But, for the most part, I think things are going to pretty much stay the same. The cost of being licensed in the city as a towing provider and a storage facility went up a little bit, which really isn’t a great big deal.”

McQuaide Cernic’s operates out of its headquarters in Richland Township, while storing vehicles on a lot in Johnstown’s Hornerstown neighborhood.

Spory said the company will now put an office – likely a trailer – at the Hornerstown lot that will be manned a minimum of 40 hours per week, between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, as required by the new ordinance.

“It’s going to be a simple fix,” Spory said. “We just have to have somebody on the staff down there in the city with a truck for 40 hours a week, which will make things more convenient for us anyway.”

Roxbury Tire owner Fred Hicks supports the new ordinance.

“I personally think it’s good changes – the fact that you have to be in the city to tow for the city,” Hicks said. “You’re paying taxes in the city, I feel that you should be able to tow for the City of Johnstown.”

Hicks’ business does not currently have a lot that would fit the regulations.

“We are actually in the process of right now purchasing another piece of land that we do have to fence in,” Hicks said.

He also likes the rotation system that has been established.

“I think that’s one of the best things that they decided to do,” he said. “I think it’s going to take stress off the police officers. Now, the police officers pretty much call and 911 keeps track of everything. When they need a tow truck, 911 pretty much just goes right down the list and calls whoever is next.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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