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Where to store forfeited cars?

The Woodbury Public Safety department is not in the auto industry and has no interest in being in the car sales business.

But when numerous vehicles are impounded for whatever reason, some go through the forfeiture process, which ends up making car salespeople of the cops after all.

Public Safety Director Lee Vague said for that reason, the city now has cars stashed in various parts of town to the point that there is a dire need for a new impound lot.

"We've had cars stored in public works, we've had cars stored in water towers, we've had cars stored in any number of city buildings that have space for us to do it," he said.

The city is in talks with Washington County to share land off of Bailey Road and Cottage Grove Drive to construct a secured impound lot that would cost more than $560,000 in 2013 and 2014. No official proposal has been discussed, however.

"We've got these vehicles that we are holding on to. We don't want to pay a daily storage fee for these using tax dollars," Vague said. "We don't want the owner to have to pay an exorbitant fee if indeed they get that vehicle back."

Cars are in forfeiture cane be stored for days, weeks and months depending on the crimes committed, he added, while court proceedings are under way.

But state law is clear on what cars don't pass the test for forfeiture at the time they're impounded and which ones won't go back to the owners.

"There is cases where people get their cars impounded and they're not public enemies," Vague said.

But there are multiple DWI offenders who aren't allowed to get their vehicles back.

"The purpose behind it is pretty clear in my mind," he added. "We're trying to keep this person from driving and ultimately hurting somebody."

While those vehicles are stored, the legal process might conclude whether the owner is required to forfeit the car or get it back. Then the city decides if it should sell it in an auction and use the money, or keep it as undercover.

City accountant Lynn Haseleu said the public safety department has a special public safety activities fund where regulated purchases like new surveillance equipment or DWI enforcement costs are budgeted.

"They are not co-mingled with any general fund revenue," she said.

And it's difficult to determine how much is currently in those funds because there are specific forfeiture funds such as the DWI fund and the drug forfeiture fund that go up and down depending on activity.

"One big forfeiture would spike that thing through the roof," Vague said.

Though he said it's not a huge moneymaker, the forfeiture funds do help cover some costs in lieu of taxpayer dollars.

"We're not looking to grow those funds," Vague said, adding that some of the money has been used to buy squad video cameras and communication equipment.

Michele Jurjans handles evidence and seized vehicles at the police department. She said currently there are 18 cars that have been impounded. About half were involved in DWIs and the other half are other felony related.

"If we can have room for 30, 40 cars that would be best," she said of the proposed impound lot.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.