The QueQue: COSA tackles towing fees, Rate hike for UTSA's dismal grad rates, Small victory in Goliad County
Published: May 30, 2012
COSA tackles towing fees
This month the City of San Antonio began to enforce a little-known city ordinance passed in 2002 that caps towing charges at $85 (a howl away from that near-$300 fees we've grown used to), after a series of WOAI "Troubleshooter" pieces ran. According to the city attorney's office, companies were overcharging by the hundreds. But when SAPD went out to enforce the ordinance en masse this month, issuing hundreds of misdemeanor citations, tow companies sued. In a complaint filed last week, Bexar Towing insists the rate set out by the city's 2002 ordinance "does not represent a fair value for the services provided" and would force companies to operate at a loss.
Tower attorney Bebb Francis cited a 2003 law passed by the Lege after San Antonio adopted its own ordinance, saying cities seeking to regulate towing fees on their own must first conduct a fee study. State rules laid out by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation cap towing fees at $250, with a maximum $125 drop fee. Since 2003, Francis insists, local towers have asked for that fee study. "For about 10 years the city's ignored this state law, they've ignored that they had this $85 ordinance on the books." Only after Francis sent the City Manager's office a letter in March did SAPD Chief William McManus respond on April 23 that the city would start gathering financial and accounting info "to help evaluate the fair value of tow services." The next day, SAPD handed Bexar Towing a misdemeanor citation for breaking the $85-max ordinance, Francis says. Then early this month 10 SAPD officers showed up at the Bexar Towing offices, asking to review the records for non-consent tows for the past two weeks, slapping the company with over 500 citations, Francis claims (the city says it was closer to 400). Last week, State District Judge David Berchelmann granted Bexar Towing a temporary restraining order that keeps the city from enforcing its $85-max towing ordinance, and a hearing on the matter's scheduled for next Monday. Asked if the city jumped the gun by enforcing the ordinance en masse before completing a fee study, City Attorney Michael Bernard said, "We don't need a fee study to do that, that's ridiculous." But could those who've been overcharged since the city's 2002 ordinance went into effect ever see restitution? "I'm not going to go into that at this point," Bernard said. "Right now we're just looking at those 400 or so cases we've got. … Four hundred," Bernard repeated, "and that was just covering a two-week period."
Rate hike for UTSA's dismal grad rates
UTSA is graduating fewer than one in five of its full-time students within four years, according to data released by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The group's 2012 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, released this month, reports that the campus graduates a mere 15.8 percent of its full-time students within four years. Out of the nine schools in the University of Texas system, only UT-El Paso has a lower rate. When considering six-year and 10-year graduation rates, UTSA graduated just over half of its full-time students within a decade. UTSA officials declined to be interviewed about the statistics last week, and instead referred the Current to the university's Graduation Rate Improvement Plan released December 2011. The 71-page document outlines how the university plans to raise the graduation rate. Ideas include increasing the university's selectivity in admissions, giving financial aid incentives for juniors and seniors staying on course to graduate in four years, and raising the ratio of faculty to students. The school currently has 25 students for each faculty member, the highest ratio in the UT system (a distinction shared with UT-Pan American). With it bumping up tuition 1.7 percent each year for the next two years (graduate and professional degree students will see increases of 3.6 percent next fall), the university says it hopes to use the additional cash to hire professors and reduce the dismal student-faculty ratio. UTSA projects that by implementing these plans it will improve to one quarter of its students graduating within four years by the year 2021.