As prices start soaring again, the council voted to become the first city in the state to require prepayment at all service stations within its borders.
The Coon Rapids City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to require prepayment for all gasoline purchases, a move intended to thwart drive-off thefts. However, station owners can allow customers to fill up before paying if they know them or can otherwise identify them.
Following intense debate, the city became the first in Minnesota to require prepayment, by credit card at the pump or by cash or credit inside the station. The ordinance will be implemented Aug. 1, allowing station owners time to prepare for the change.
"It's a good day in Coon Rapids," said station owner Jerry Charmoli. Many station owners at the meeting, however, were unhappy with the plan and said they had not received sufficient time to address the problem themselves.
"It's detrimental," said Stephen Linn, franchisee of a new Holiday station. He said the ordinance will change business costs and profits "dramatically," saying that credit card fees would increase, inside purchases would decrease and the average fill rate would decrease as customers guessed the dollar cost of filling up their cars.
"I think they deserve more time," Council Member Jerry Koch said. He opposed the ordinance saying, "Let them work on their businesses themselves."
Mayor Tim Howe also voted against the ordinance, saying that stations were already working to lower drive-off thefts and that the government should not interfere or should at least wait to vote.
Fuel thefts peaked in the city at 535 in 2006, after a sharp increase from just 225 in 2002. There were 481 last year.
The prepayment plan surfaced last fall among small station owners, who said thefts were taking a hefty chunk out of their already weak bottom lines, and with the city's police department. Police Chief Brad Wise said at the time that reducing the number of fuel thefts would allow officers to focus on other, more serious crimes.
Gas stations already can require prepayment on a station-by-station basis, but local station owners have said they feared that if they adopted the policy unilaterally, they might lose customers to stations that don't require prepayment.
Bryna Godar is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune. Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409