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.