After eight months, Coon Rapids is repealing its pay-before-you-pump requirement on gasoline purchases, a mandate that has drawn criticism from a number of its gas station owners.
The City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to eliminate the ordinance — the only one of its kind in the state — which requires motorists to pay at the pump or inside before filling up. The repeal will be effective May 4.
City Police Chief Brad Wise backed the ordinance, which took effect last August, saying that hundreds of drive-off gas thefts each year cut into time that officers could spend pursuing more serious crimes.
But station owners who opposed the rule said it hurt both in-store purchases and fuel sales, as customers would only pay by credit card at the pump or go to stations outside the city.
“It took a viable business, a successful business, and really put it on life support,” Rick Dehn, a Coon Rapids Marathon gas station owner, said after Tuesday’s meeting. Dehn said drive-offs cost him about $1,000 in 2011 while he has lost about $25,000 in profit since the ordinance took effect.
Some council members and station owners said a new state law that requires owners to seek civil remedies before pursuing criminal charges could ease the burden on police. Gas station owners send vehicle information on drive-offs to the Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association, which then tries to collect payment. Station owners can ask police to get involved if a civil attempt fails.
Owners say they can collect 40 to 50 percent of their losses through the civil process.
Police Chief Wise said the civil process should help. He noted that it’s difficult to prosecute drive-offs. In 2011, 112 drivers statewide had their licenses suspended — the penalty for stealing gas from a station, he said. The same year, there were nearly 500 drive-offs in Coon Rapids alone.
Council Member Denise Klint voted to keep the ordinance. She acknowledged the toll on business but said repealing it also causes issues for smaller operations, which don’t have the equipment needed to monitor their pumps.
Other cities may not get the chance to adopt a prepay ordinance if a bill at the Legislature passes. The measure from Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, would bar them.
Kevin Burbach is a University of Minnesota student on assignment at the Star Tribune.