“The program’s working,” Kodiak Police Lt. D.J. Clumpner said of the “red tag” practice for removing abandoned and junked vehicles.
Clumpner said the five towed away by the city earlier this week was a higher number than usual.
“Like a lot of things, it goes in spurts,” he said.
According to city code, a vehicle can be treated as abandoned if left “unattended, standing, parked upon, or within 10 feet of the traveled portion of a highway in excess of 24 hours” or on private property “without the consent of the owner or person in charge of the property.”
The red tags placed on apparently abandoned cars notify owners to move them within 24 hours or risk them getting towed away. In practice, unless the vehicle poses an immediate hazard, it will likely remain for the 15 days the owner has to respond to the warning.
Clumpner explained that saves the city from having to pay for potentially towing the car twice — once to temporary storage, then again to disposal after the process works itself through.
After 15 days to respond, the city can legally dispose of the car or sell it at auction, depending on whether it has any value. If the owner doesn’t respond, the city removes the car and starts the 30-day countdown until it can be sold at auction or junked.
“But we don’t have an auction but once a year,” Clumpner said, which means more possible storage costs.
For the city of Kodiak, the program is mainly carried out by the two community service officers, Clumpner said, one of whom is the animal control officer.
“They keep track of it,” he said.
The CSOs field tips from residents and other officers, check on the vehicles that might be abandoned, issue the red tags, send letters to registered owners and count the days till towing. They usually get to a suspected problem car within 48 hours, Clumpner said.
In most cases, however, things don’t go as far as towing.
“The vast majority, the owners take care of it,” Clumpner said.
Within the city, no one area stands out as favored for leaving cars, Clumpner said. While it seems itinerant residents leave cars near the harbors fairly often, that area is regularly patrolled by harbor staff.
“They’ll call us if they got one out there,” Clumpner said.
More commonly, someone deliberately seeking to avoid the cost of getting rid of their car responsibly — $250 per car in Kodiak —will leave it someplace with less traffic.
In a program that ended about three years ago, the Kodiak Island Borough funded removal of abandoned vehicles from private as well as public property. That came to around 200 per year, borough enforcement officer Neil Horn said.
“We don’t so that anymore,” he said. “We don’t have the budget for that.”
Now the borough will only remove abandoned vehicles on borough property and right-of-ways, not from private property or state roads. That comes to 10 to 15 per year these days, Horn said.
The difference shows up in rusty wrecks throughout the borough.
“I think everybody can see the number of junked vehicles on private property,” Horn said.
When the reduced budget for removal has funds remaining in spring, the borough holds a lottery open to local taxpayers for free removal from private property. This year the borough paid to remove 15 cars.
Of the truly abandoned vehicles, Clumpner and Horn said a common story is that a temporary resident buys an older, cheaper car, fails to register it, then leaves it here when they leave to avoid transportation or disposal charges.
“We do the best as we can to find the owner,” Horn said.
Those cases cause the most problems for enforcement officials because racking down the true owners becomes “onerous and often impossible task,” Horn said.
To protect against further liability, Clumpner advises anyone who sells a car to follow the legal requirements for notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles by completing and submitting the detachable title transfer pending form on the title.
Within city limits, at least, Clumpner sees an overall improvement.
“It seems to me we’re getting fewer and fewer complaints about them,” he said. “We’re trying.”