by Peter Bodley
The proposed ordinance mandating the prepayment of gasoline and diesel fuel at retail fuel businesses in the city will be back before the Coon Rapids City Council next week.
The council will have a work session Tuesday, Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m., to hear from gas station business owners/operators, as well as members of the community, on how to deal with the growing no pay drive-off problem.
The ordinance, which if adopted would make Coon Rapids the first community in Minnesota to mandate prepayment of gasoline, was tabled by the council at its Dec. 6, 2011 meeting for further discussion at a work session.
Specifically, the ordinance would require motorists to prepay for gasoline or pay for it at the pump.
The vote to table was 4-3. Mayor Tim Howe and Councilmembers Melissa Larson, Jerry Koch and Bruce Sanders favored the work session, while Councilmembers Denise Klint, Paul Johnson and Scott Schulte were ready to adopt the ordinance after adding some amendments.
At that time, Howe made it clear to the gas station business owners that he wanted to hear how they were going to solve the no pay drive off problem, not why they were opposed to the ordinance.
His position on that has not changed, Howe said late last week.
According to Howe, since the Dec. 6, 2011 council meeting he has not heard from any of the gas station owners, but he did meet with Bob Krogman, executive director of the Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association.
“We had an interesting conversation,” Howe said.
And Krogman has also met individually with other council members, he said.
Contacted this week, Krogman said he would be at Tuesday’s meeting to make a presentation to the council, but he did not want to divulge what he would have to say in the media beforehand, he said.
The Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association was formed in 1923 “to provide services to the petroleum marketer, to help them at all levels of government and to support fellow marketers,” according to the association website.
The association’s functions are education, regulatory analysis and programs to help with compliance, legislative and regulatory monitoring and services to members, the website states.
According to Howe, there has been a noticeable drop in the number of no pays reported to the police since the Dec. 6, 2011 council meeting.
In fact, the station that had had the largest volume of no pay reports had not contacted police once, Howe said.
“They are apparently going after the driver civilly,” he said. “But it’s still a crime even if it is not reported.”
The Coon Rapids Police Department proposed the ordinance because the number of no pays from gas stations, which constitutes theft, was growing and it has had a negative impact on the city’s crime rate.
According to Police Chief Brad Wise said cities in other parts of the country have established similar ordinances with positive results.
Wise sees the ordinance as a crime prevention tool, a way to reduce crime.
Larceny or theft, including theft of gas, is classified as a class 1 crime along with murder, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft and arson.
In 2010, the city had 2,854 class 1 crimes and 2,467 were thefts, Wise said. And of those 2,467 thefts, 492, or nearly 20 percent, were fuel thefts, he said.
Of those 492 reported cases, there were only seven citations written because positive identification has to be made of the person pumping the gas and then driving off; a license plate number is not enough, Wise said.
And when Coon Rapids’ crime statistics are compared with the national average, the only class 1 crime which exceeds the average is theft, according to Wise.
Through Nov. 1, 2011, there were 456 no pay theft reports and 10 citations, Wise said. In 70 (15.3 percent) of the reported cases, the vehicle in question had stolen plates on it, he said.
“The intent of this ordinance is to reduce crime,” he said. “It is placing a burden on the limited resources of our department.”
The city has used ordinances to deal with crime issues in other ways, for example the rental licensing law, which has had the effect of reducing crime in multi-family buildings, Wise said.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, Councilmember Bruce Sanders presented a proposed amendment to the ordinance, an exception paragraph if a business enters “into a civil agreement with customers, pursuant to which customers may activate a fuel pump prior to payment through the use of a card or similar device, issued by the business owner that activates the pump, such an agreement shall include identifying information of the customer that may be used by the business owner for seeking compensation in the appropriate civil court should the customer fail to pay for fuel after activating the pump with such a card.”
The three councilmembers who supported adopting the law at the Dec. 6 meting were willing to add Sanders’ amendment to the ordinance.
Peter Bodley is at firstname.lastname@example.org