FORT MYERS — Thieves banking on stealing air conditioning coils and copper wiring for income may want to scrap their business models if Lee County adopts an ordinance cracking down on scrap metal sales.
Commissioners Monday met with the Lee County’s Sheriff Office to discuss stiffer requirements for documenting people who sell certain scrap metals.
“The price of metal has increased worldwide and that has helped cause an increase in theft of certain items,” said Sgt. James Chitwood with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. “The victim is out several thousand dollars. When you’re talking about commercial locations, that amount is even more.”
Chitwood said the county has seen a dramatic increase in stolen air conditioning units, copper wiring from homes and businesses, backflow valves and copper bars used in cell phone towers. To combat that trend, a metal task force was formed between Lee County, Fort Myers and Cape Coral police departments over the summer.
Now the task force is proposing several changes to local laws regarding metal sales.
Current county law says scrap metal companies must get a copy of the seller’s driver’s license or other form of valid identification, a thumb print, information about the make and model of the car and the license plate number of the vehicle used to transport the metal.
Chitwood said the ordinance could require sellers to prove ownership of the air conditioning coil or one of the other 20 or so targeted items. Cash transactions would not be allowed on those items and payment could be delayed until the scrapped part is correctly identified.
Commissioner Frank Mann commended Chitwood and the Sheriff’s Office for their work on the ordinance and agreed that changes to current laws are needed.
“We know that this is a major issue,” Mann said. “They’re ripping off churches and 501(c)3s.”
Commissioner Brian Bigelow said he’s concerned that the cost to implement the ordinance would fall on the scrap metal business owners.
“What troubles me is that the burden seems to be shifted onto the scrap metal businesses,” he said. “We are treading into the private sector. That concerns me.”
Rob Weber, owner of Garden Street Iron & Metal in Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Naples, said before the meeting that he’s been working with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years on the ordinance.
Although he said it costs him more money to properly document sellers, Weber said he’d welcome more restrictions, even if it meant even higher operating costs.
“The real problem is some scrap dealers will knowingly take stolen metal,” Weber said. “(They don’t document the seller) because people don’t like it when you ask for a thumb print.”
The ordinance is expected to be scheduled a county commission public hearing in early November.