Dealers wary of city's proposed scrap metal ordinance

The city has come up with a new scrap metal ordinance aimed at discouraging thieves from stealing catalytic converters from cars and ripping off copper wire and brass fittings.

But some businesses that deal in scrap metal would like the city to scrap the ordinance.

The Wichita City Council is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday.

The ordinance would require scrap metal sellers to provide photo identification or give a thumbprint before collecting cash for their scrap metal.

They also would have to sign an affidavit confirming where they got the scrap metal.

The ordinance limits cash transactions, and specifically defines items most likely to be stolen in the city.

It requires scrap metal dealers to be licensed, keep records of certain transactions and make them available to law enforcement officers upon request.

Licensees also would have to give police a record of all transactions conducted the preceding day.

The law would let police put holds on certain items, including those with markings from places such as Westar Energy or the city of Wichita.

Council members voiced support for the measure at a workshop last month, but wanted to examine details of the ordinance before voting on it.

The new law was inspired by a rise in scrap metal thefts in Wichita in recent years due to a rise in scrap metal prices.

But scrap metal dealers think the ordinance does more to hurt their businesses than to stop thefts, and some of them plan to show up at Tuesday's meeting to oppose it.

Dale Lehning, owner of A-One Auto Salvage, said the ordinance does a poor job defining the businesses that it is trying to control.

Some salvage licensees operate on the fringes and don't meet the stringent requirements of legitimate businesses, he said.

"It's like operating a grocery store in the back of a truck in Dillons' parking lot."

The ordinance shows that the government doesn't understand what the industry does and how it operates, he said.

Paul Davis, owner of A-Plus Parts and Salvage, said the ordinance lumps salvage vehicle dealers, scrap metal dealers and vehicle crushers together, even though they operate differently.

"I think it displays an alarming lack of sensitivity about who does what," Davis said.

Mike Abasolo, director of operations for Wichita Iron and Metals Corp., said the ordinance won't solve the problem of theft because it doesn't go after the thieves.

Police know who the thieves are, he said.

"They've been convicted in court of a felony. It's public record. It's the same people who do it over and over," he said.

Abasolo doesn't like the requirement that he must turn over a record of his daily transactions to police. Too many eyes will see his list of customers, he said.

"I think that's a crock," he said. "I don't want everybody to know the names of my accounts."

He also doesn't like that police will get to come in and look at his books.

"I think what they need to do is quit concentrating on this stuff. Concentrate on the solution. This is not the solution," Abasolo said.

"You're trying to make me and the other legitimate companies around here pay the price."