Motorists who patronize gas stations in unincorporated Jefferson County will soon have to pay in advance with a credit card or cash before they pump their gas.
The Jefferson County Council voted 6-1 Monday to approve an ordinance that will require prepayment for any gasoline purchase.
Arnold and Herculaneum already have laws on the books requiring gasoline prepayment.
Councilman Phil Hendrickson (District 3, Arnold), who proposed the ordinance, said he was approached by management of the two larger convenience store chains in the county to put the issue before the council.
“After I was re-elected (in November 2018), David Mangelsdorf (chief executive officer of Home Service Oil Co. of Barnhart) approached me and asked me about the county instituting a requirement,” Hendrickson said.
Mangelsdorf, whose company operates nine gasoline convenience stores in the county, said he approached Hendrickson after analyzing what happened at the Arnold location once that city instituted its ordinance.
“We found that incidents where people drove off without paying in Arnold went from $1,300 a year to zero almost overnight. That’s obviously good for us, but it’s really affected the Police Department because we’re not calling them to investigate a crime that is worth $20 to $50 per incident. It’s not a good use of the police’s time,” he said. “That was a goal of Arnold when it instituted it.”
Mangelsdorf said he has heard from people who prefer to pay cash rather than use credit cards at gas stations, and to use cash to fill up a tank, a prepayment requirement would necessitate multiple trips into the store.
“We offer prepaid gift cards that are just like cash,” he said. “You can buy them in the station or online and you can fill up without ever having to go into the station.”
Mangelsdorf said he also has heard criticism that having a prepayment restriction is a problem for disabled drivers.
“Our employees throughout our company are trained that if anyone needs help at the pump for whatever reason, they are to come out and assist them upon request,” he said.
Hendrickson said after he was approached by Mangelsdorf, he consulted with Sheriff Dave Marshak for his opinion.
“He told me he was totally in support,” Hendrickson said. “He had already assigned someone to do the research and handed me a thick book. Turns out we average about 250 drive-offs a year in the unincorporated county, and it takes a deputy four to six hours to investigate, write and file a report. That’s a lot of wasted time.”
Hendrickson said the convenience store operators told him that a government-enacted restriction is the only fair way to cut down on drive-offs.
“Why don’t (the operators) do it on their own?” Hendrickson said. “Most people don’t realize that for those who are selling the gas, it’s a low-profit margin, and if one station requires prepayment, many will just go to the station across the street or down the road. If everybody isn’t doing it, they’ll lose business.”
Mangelsdorf said anything other than a blanket restriction wouldn’t accomplish its purpose.
“Having scattered stations requiring prepayment doesn’t solve the problem for law enforcement,” he said. “We’ve found that the people who drive off will just go to the next station (that doesn’t require repayment). Once Arnold passed its ordinance, drive-offs went up at our Imperial store.”
Mangelsdorf said a requirement covering unincorporated Jefferson County will likely send those wishing to pump gas and not pay for it to the cities that don’t have a similar ordinance.
“If this (county ordinance) is approved, we’ll be talking to the cities,” Mangelsdorf said.
Council member Tracey Perry (District 5, Festus) cast the sole dissenting vote.
Perry said she opposed the restriction because she is a conservative.
“I think we have enough government involvement in our lives,” she said.