Owners of 26 vehicles that were towed during a Jan. 3 snow emergency in Lower Macungie Township had to pay towing fees totaling as much as $400 to get them back.

Now those people will be getting $65 refunds “as a good faith concession” from the towing company.

While township manager Bruce Fosselman explained residents had plenty of warnings to move their cars before they were towed, at Thursday night’s township meeting he also acknowledged the towing charges were high.

The towing company – Upper Milford-based Mechanics Plus Towing – has informed township officials it will lower its rates to keep the township’s business in future snow emergencies

But at least two of the five township commissioners want to obtain bids to see if Lower Macungie can get a better deal on future towing fees.

Some of the people who had their cars towed because they didn’t heed township warnings complained to township commissioners -- including new commissioners Ron Beitler and Brian Higgins—at their Jan. 6 reorganizing meeting.

On Thursday, Fosselman gave commissioners a detailed report reviewing what happened.

The township declared a snow emergency at 3 p.m. Jan. 2 and gave residents nine hours to remove their cars from streets designated for snow emergencies.

Fosselman said public notification about that declaration included television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, mass email and a posting on the township’s web site.

He explained snow emergencies are declared when at least six inches of snow fall.

The manager said the township has an obligation to its residents to keep roads clear so police, ambulances and fire trucks can get to their homes if emergencies occur.

The township will continue to have cars towed when necessary, said Fosselman.

“Getting snow off those streets is priority number one.”

A couple of residents at the Jan 6 meeting told commissioners their streets weren’t plowed even after their cars were towed away.

Towing isn’t done to make money for the township, said Fosselman. He said it also isn’t done to upset people, but added “unfortunately” that’s what happened this month.

“I don’t think we did anything wrong, but we can always learn from an incident like we just had here.”

He said in the future, the township may do even more to notify vehicle owners parked on snow emergency routes. He said ideas being discussed include robo-calling, phone chaining and putting notices on vehicles.

Many of those ideas came from residents at the Jan. 6 meeting.

Fosselman said Lower Macungie began towing cars on its designated snow emergency routes in 2008.

“This idea that we haven’t done it before is not true,” said the manager. But he also acknowledged: “We haven’t had many snow emergencies.”

Ben Galiardo, the township’s code enforcement officer, said 40 cars were towed during a 2008 snow emergency “and there was no public outcry whatsoever.”

Fosselman said 46 cars could have been towed on Jan. 3, but 20 parked on snow emergency routes were moved before the tow trucks arrived.

The $65 refunds

Mechanics Plus Towing is making a $65-per-vehicle concession, announced Fosselman. He said the towing company will write one check to the township, which will write individual refund checks.

The manager said a letter will be sent with those checks, explaining what happened and that “Mechanics Plus did nothing wrong. They did what we instructed them to do.”