City Council will consider an ordinance that would hobble a small business writing $50 parking tickets in private lots, perhaps forcing lot owners to use a worse alternative for consumers: towing firms that charge at least $177 to give you back your car.

The ordinance before the council on Wednesday, Nov. 23, will set a $16 maximum fine for private-lot tickets, the same amount the city charges public parking-meter violators. Backers of the limit sell it as a way to rein in an unregulated private-ticket industry. But some might consider private tickets better than the alternative: towing.

Northwest Parking Control, the city's only private ticketing company, cuts its $50 fine to $25 if drivers pay promptly. And Northwest Parking general manager Brian Thompson says many clients have switched to his service because towing companies won't return cars without payment, even when violators have good excuses. Thompson thinks a lower $16 fee won't deter drivers from poaching empty lots, thus forcing his lot-owner customers back to expensive towing companies.

The city collects no money from private ticketers but gets $5 out of each $177 tow; lot owners aren't supposed to get any cut of the $177 (which doesn't include storage fees). City towing coordinator Marian Gaylord says the ticket limit will prevent abuse of car owners.

One last note: The change proposed by Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor Tom Potter is part of a larger ordinance from the department of unfinished business. The ordinance will finalize a ban on booting cars, which had been scheduled for a vote last summer.