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Ogle Sheriff’s memo calls for end of tow fee

Decision did not come from board, Gouker says

Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 6:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 8:56 p.m. CDT

OREGON – In an internal memo dated April 1, Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn said his department would no longer collect the administrative tow fee.

“We will continue to tow vehicles subsequent to arrest; however we will no longer distribute the vehicle seizure paperwork, nor require owners to remit the $350 impound fee,” Harn wrote in the memo.

The fee has generated much controversy in recent months.

Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker said the decision did not come from the board.

“It’s a decision of the sheriff,” he said.

Additionally, Gouker said it was his interpretation of the administrative tow fund ordinance that the department and its deputies didn’t have the discretion to waive the tow fee.

Harn didn’t return a request for comment.

The key portion of the ordinance, Gouker said, says that the fee “shall be imposed on the registered owner or lessee” of any vehicle impounded.

Gouker spoke with Harn about the issue Tuesday, he said, and asked him to review the ordinance and his decision.

Gouker said he also sought Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock Tuesday for a legal interpretation of the ordinance and who can call for stopping the fee.

As of this afternoon, Gouker said he hadn’t heard back from Rock.

The ordinance, which the County Board passed in October 2011, allows the county to collect a $350 administrative fee to tow vehicles, such as those resulting from a DUI arrest.

Between October 2011 and November 2013, $210,400 was deposited into the tow fund, which the ordinance allowed to be spent at the sheriff’s discretion.

In December, Sauk Valley Media reported that Harn had used money from the tow fund to pay for repairs to department vehicles, a tent at the Ogle County Fair, a $4,000 management fee for the department’s Facebook page, and flowers for Secretary’s Day, among other expenses.

About a third of the $210,400 in the tow fund during its first 2 years came from sources of revenue other than tow fees, including donations and reimbursements from Exelon Corp. and reimbursements for prisoner transport (35 cents a mile), among others.  

In February, the Count Board restricted what the tow fund could be used for. This month, the board is expected to discuss restricting the sources of revenue for the tow fund.

In the March 18 Republican primary election, Harn lost a close three-way race to Brian VanVickle, a Rochelle police officer.

The Democratic Party has no candidate yet, and the general election is Nov. 4.

The new term starts Dec. 1.

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