EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 10, 2013

For some beachgoers, a tow at the water

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY BEACH — Last Saturday was not a day at the beach for 10 car owners who had their cars towed by order of police for illegal parking at the beach.

Salisbury Sgt. Robert Roy said officers are out on patrol every day to ensure the laws are followed in town, and that includes parking regulations. Although tickets are issued for parking meter violations, when the situation warrants it, cars are ordered towed when they're parked illegally.

"We tow cars all the time," Roy said. "But I know we towed quite a few on Saturday along North End Boulevard."

According to Roy, on Saturday the major infractions responsible for the police calling Amesbury Towing were vehicles parked illegally blocking crosswalks, parking within 20 feet of a corner, obstructing hydrants or parking on sidewalks. All those represent infractions of state parking regulations, he said

Another violation that can get a vehicle yanked is parking in a handicap space without a handicap plate or placard. The violation also carries a $100 fine, Roy said. And, if a driver mistakenly parks blocking a private driveway, homeowners can call police and the car may end up hauled away as well, he added.

Whatever the reason, coming back from the sea and the sand to find a car hauled away can ruin your whole day and cost a pretty penny. And, the "Happy Hooker" motto, painted on the sides of all Amesbury Towing trucks, can also cause a little jaw clinching.

According to Joe Pratt, owner of Amesbury Towing, towing fees are regulated by the state and are multi-faceted. To begin with, the initial tow fee is $90, then there's a $3 per mile charge for every mile over the first five for the round trip from the company to the towing job and back. There's a state set fuel fee that's added, which for July equals 6.1 percent of the mileage and towing fee, he said, and there's a $35-per-day storage fee that begins as soon as the car gets to the Amesbury Towing lot, and which goes up every 24 hours. Pratt said there's also a $20 administration fee that goes to Salisbury.

It adds up, but drivers won't get their vehicles back without paying the total. And, although police get their share of irate comments from owners whose vehicles they've ordered towed, Pratt's employees often get the brunt on their anger.

"People were saying there was no sign that said there's no parking within 20 feet of the corner," Pratt said. "You don't need a sign for that; it's something you learn in drivers' ed. You're supposed to know that when you get your license."

The same can be said of parking too close to a hydrant or parking a vehicle on a sidewalk. Just because drivers are on vacation, doesn't mean the state or town parking regulations are taking a day off, too.

The heat over the 4th of July holiday weekend brought thousands to the beach on Saturday, and public parking lots, costing about $10 a day, were jammed.

"I was told the municipal parking lot was packed and they were using satellite parking for the overflow," Roy said. "And I was told the (Salisbury Beach State) Reservation parking lot also filled up on Saturday."

But the enforcement of local and state parking regulations isn't seen as bad news by everyone. Thoughtless parkers have made lives miserable for beach residents for years, according to Ray Champagne, president of the Salisbury Beach Betterment Association, an organization made up of beach residents and businesses.

"Personally, I'm glad to see the police taking an aggressive stance on illegal parking," Champagne said. "There's adequate parking with the town and private parking lots without people having to park illegally blocking sidewalks. The problems are caused by people who don't want to pay (for parking), or feel they can impact someone else's life for their own convenience."

The enforcement of parking regulation means revenue for town coffers as well. Parking meters are in use May 1 through Nov. 1, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Roy said, and tickets for meter violations are $15, while fines for all other parking infractions are $20, except for handicap parking violations.

Tickets are paid in the Town Clerk's office. For the last fiscal year, running from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, parking tickets brought in $72,965. Towing administration fees are not included in that figure.

Violators get four notices for parking tickets, and those who refuse to pay aren't forgotten.

"If they don't pay, the ticket goes into default and goes to the Registry," Roy said. "Then, when people go to register a car, they can't until they pay the fine."