Gas prepay law to get another look in Coon Rapids

The Coon Rapids City Council will revisit the gas prepay ordinance.

At its strategic planning project goal setting work session Jan. 15 at the Harvest Grill, the council set Wednesday, March 20 for another work session on the ordinance.

The ordinance, which was adopted on a 5-2 vote to the council Feb. 21, 2012 following extensive discussion and a special council meeting solely devoted to listening to those for and against the prepay proposal issue, went into effect Aug. 1, 2012.

The council had a work session on the ordinance Oct. 30, 2012 to assess the impact of the law over its first three months, but after hearing pros and cons from several speakers, it decided, by consensus, that it was too soon to consider changes or repeal.

The ordinance was recommended by Police Chief Brad Wise as a means to counter the increasing number of no-pays/drive offs in Coon Rapids, which was causing a spike in the city’s crime rate.

Since the ordinance became law, there have been no gas thefts reported in the city, according to Wise.

The ordinance requires prepayment, either by credit card at the pump or by going inside and paying cash, before the pump is turned on.

But there is an exception to the prepay requirement. If business owners enter into a civil agreement with customers, including providing identifying information, then customers can activate a pump prior to payment.

The October 2012 work session was requested by Councilmember Bruce Sanders, who was one of the majority that voted for the ordinance.

Gas station/convenience store owners/operators/managers were invited to speak, but only one, Jerry Charmoli, Highway 10 Mobil, was in favor of prepay.

He had put in place an agreement with customers that allows them not to have to prepay at the pump if they don’t wish to, according to Charmoli.

Others like Rick Dehn of the Marathon at Northdale and Foley boulevards, Kevin Amundson of Neighbor Stop at Quince Street and Egret Boulevard, Brad Fogerty of Kwik Trip on Coon Rapids Boulevard and Jim Hannay of the Holiday at Coon Rapids and Foley boulevards presented figures that showed what they described as “significant” losses not only in gasoline sales, but also in-store sales because of the ordinance, not to mention customer dissatisfaction.

They wanted the council to embrace a new civil remedy to deal with gas drive-offs, which the Minnesota Legislature approved in the 2012 session.

The handful of residents that spoke Oct. 30 were more or less evenly split for and against the ordinance.

Sanders offered a compromise that would set up a voluntary licensing system with random compliance checks whereby gas stations would put in place equipment and procedures to get all information necessary to provide proof of an intentional no pay where the driver could be held accountable through changes in state law.

If that was done, the owner/operator could get a license from the city and no longer need to have prepay, according to Sanders.

But if not, then prepay would stay in place, Sanders said.

Councilmember Jerry Koch, who opposed prepay from the beginning, continued to call for its repeal.

Neither Melissa Larson nor Scott Schulte, who both voted for the ordinance, sought re-election to the council at the November general election.

Councilmember Ron Manning, who succeeded Larson, was openly against the ordinance during his campaign.

Councilmember Steve Wells, who took Schulte’s placel, said he is open minded, but believes it is an unnecessary ordinance.

At the Jan. 15 strategic planning work session, discussion on the prepay gas ordinance and other topics was confined strictly to councilmembers, although there were gas stations operators and a representative from the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce present.

At the March 20 work session, Wise will present current crime statistics to show the impact of the ordinance.

Mayor Tim Howe, who had voted against the ordinance in February 2012, wanted gas station operators to provide the council with updated sales figures since the ordinance went into effect.

In addition, gas station owners have also been asked to give the council information on what steps they have taken to prevent drive-offs.

As an example, the Holiday gas station at Hanson and Northdale boulevards, north of Highway 10, has in place high definition camera equipment that clearly delineates drivers’ faces and vehicle license plates, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

“The council wants to know what other stations have in place as a deterrent,” Gatlin said.

When Wise proposed the ordinance as a crime prevention tool to minimize the number of no-pay/drive offs retail fuel businesses, there had been 492 in 2010 and 481 in 2011.

Those numbers did go down after the ordinance was introduced and while the council was considering its adoption because gas stations were not reporting them, Wise said.

  • George

    The HD camera equipment at Holiday will pan across each parking space at the pump and record everything so you have a complete record of the theft. All of the cities in the metro area have had a large increase in gas thefts no doubt because of the economy and the extremely high prices of gas. Since gas prices are likely to go up, the gas station owners need to have HD cameras to help out the police. A lot of the people return to pay and say they “forgot” so they don’t get charged but MN state law is a lot more strict for penalties if you are caught. The cost of the camera equipment would pay for itself. I would not own a gas station without cameras everywhere, not just for drive-offs but robberies to identify the person.

  • more regulations, please

    Commendations to owners Dehn, Amundson, Fogerty and Hannay for proactively keeping track of their losses and presenting them to the council.

    Has Charmoli’s business been impacted? One station, never identified, reported over 20% of all the drive offs. How is their business doing? Have drive off rates increased in surrounding cities?

  • MNMAN

    I for one avoid the Coon Rapids gas stations because it is a hassle to use a coupon with pre-pay.I am a CR resident and fill up once a week normally on Tuesdays at SA because they double the amount.I go to the one at 109th and Univ. because it is on the Blaine / CR border.I am sure I am not the only one that feels this way.

  • Coon Rapids Resident

    I too am a Coon Rapids resident, I have not seen the inside of a gas station in “years” and have don’t care if I ever do again. I am for one in favor a prepay. Growing up in a retail family business, I know first hand that theft is a cost for all of us so it makes no sense not to prevent the cost of theft.

  • Todd Arnold

    I will never purchase gas in Coon Rapids again as long as the pre-pay law is in force. I am not a criminal, but this law treats me as one. How many cases out of the 800-900 cited to support this law were investigated by the police? How many were sent to the prosecutor and then brought before a court? If the police vigorously did their jobs there would be no need for ridiculous laws like this.

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