Gas prepay ordinance is back before Coon Rapids council

The gas prepay ordinance will be back before the Coon Rapids City Council Wednesday, March 20.

The council will meet in a work session at 6:30 p.m. in the Coon Rapids City Center to again listen to comments from gas station owners and the public about the impact of the ordinance, which was adopted on a 5-2 vote by the council Feb. 21, 2012.

The decision to revisit the ordinance was made by the council at a strategic planning project goal setting work session in January.

Since the initial vote, there have been two changes on the council. Melissa Larson and Scott Schulte, who both voted for the ordinance, left the council at the end of last year and their replacements, Ron Manning in Ward 2 and Steve Wells, at-large, are both on record opposing the ordinance.

At the January meeting, the council asked gas station owners to provide updated sales figures since the ordinance went into effect as well as information on what steps they have taken to prevent drive-offs.

For 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.

At the work session Wednesday, Police Chief Brad Wise will present current crime statistics to show the impact of the ordinance.

The ordinance was recommended by 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.

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.

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 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.

Several gas station owners/operators at that work session presented figures that showed what they called 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 in October were more or less evenly split for and against the ordinance.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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