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By DAVID CAMPHOUSE
Pittsfield Mayor Gary Mendenhall recently reached out to Pittsfield’s gas station owners to inquire why Pittsfield gas prices appear to be inflated compared to surrounding communities.
According to Mendenhall, his letter was prompted by numerous resident complaints and his firsthand observation of gas prices in Pittsfield and neighboring communities.
“What caused me concern was when I could buy gas eight to fifteen miles away for significantly less money,” Mendenhall said. “About two weeks ago, I started to get complaints. It seemed like everywhere around us started to lower in price, and we were still up around $5.19.”
In a letter to gas station owners, Mendenhall stated that Pittsfield’s gas prices are higher than many surrounding communities, and he directly appealed to the gas station owners to tell him why the price disparity exists.
“I have recently fielded numerous complaints concerning the gas prices in Pittsfield,” Mendenhall wrote in his letter. “Citizens have seen considerably lower prices in nearby municipalities, ranging between 10 and 50 cents per gallon lower. Those municipalities are in Pike County, no more than fifteen miles away. I am not considering municipalities outside of Pike County. I need to know why this price disparity exists so I can respond to our citizens.”
Mendenhall, in his letter, goes on to spell out that the high gas prices are especially harmful to the low-income and older population. However, Mendenhall also points out that the lower gas pricing in neighboring communities is likely attracting higher-income Pittsfield residents to travel to those communities and purchase fuel. The travel to other communities to purchase gas, Mendenhall claims, is negatively impacting other Pittsfield businesses – including grocery stores, restaurants, and retail shops.
“These high gas prices impose hardships on the elderly and less fortunate who do not have an alternative fuel source,” Mendenhall wrote. “Other citizens, who have the means, are purchasing gas in neighboring municipalities. No doubt they are also shopping at grocery stores, retail stores and eating at restaurants during these shopping trips. This gas situation is not only detrimental to the citizens but also out merchants and to the City of Pittsfield. I suspect the extra revenue you are receiving does not offset your loss of non-gas sales.”
Mendenhall goes on to appeal to the gas station owners to bring their prices in line with neighboring communities, because a reduction in gas sales could contribute to a noticeable reduction in city tax revenue. The reduced sale of gas, Mendenhall cautions, will reduce the city’s ability to provide basic services without raising other taxes and fees.
“The City of Pittsfield’s largest revenue source is the one percent sales tax collected for us by the State of Illinois,” Mendenhall wrote. “I feel confident you are aware of the importance of the sales tax. If this disparity in fuel prices continues it will result in a substantial revenue for the City, which impedes our responsibility to provide for public safety, municipal services, and infrastructure improvements. The City of Pittsfield’s policy is to keep fees and taxes to a minimum.”
Mendenhall goes on to directly appeal to the recipients of the letters to respond, stating that – in the absence of a reasonable explanation – the gas pricing in Pittsfield could, in his opinion, be characterized as ‘price gouging.’
“The complainants raise legitimate concerns,” Mendenhall wrote. “They are entitled to a reasonable explanation for gas pricing. In the absence of this explanation, an accusation of price gouging is difficult to refute. Your prompt response will be appreciated by the citizens of Pittsfield.”