The Gazette on Friday spoke to consumers split on a proposed ordinance that would make all Janesville gas stations require prepayment for gasoline.
The Janesville Police Department recommended the ordinance to combat gasoline thefts. Last year, there were at least 165 gasoline drive-offs, 20 of which were intentional thefts, said Dave Moore, police chief.
There would be no penalty for businesses that violate the ordinance, but they wouldn’t be able to report gas thefts to police, Moore said.
The law only would affect those who pay with cash inside, not those who pay with credit or debit cards at the pump.
The Gazette spoke with more than a dozen motorists pumping gas at Lions Quick Mart on Milton Avenue. About half said they were fine with the ordinance but understand how it might inconvenience customers.
Steve Lemke doesn’t blame police for the ordinance. He compared buying gasoline to buying groceries: Customers are not allowed to leave the store before paying for food and other items.
“You go through the line. You know there’s a system,” he said.
Charles Teval said he always pays with a credit or debit card, and he’s fine with the ordinance change. He’s used to laws that require prepayment because that’s how it’s always been in California, he said.
Dillon Seamster agreed. In North Carolina, there are laws that require gasoline prepayment because of all the gas thefts the area has suffered, he said.
“That was the big stopping point for them,” Seamster said.
Seamster normally pays cash for gas, so he’s used to prepayment. But the ordinance would upset many, he said.
Angie Clapper said she has personally witnessed several gas thefts in Janesville. It’s often the on-duty clerk who gets blamed for stolen gasoline, she said, adding she doesn’t consider that fair. The proposed ordinance would prevent that, she said.
Janine Lueck is adamantly opposed to an ordinance. She considers it un-American to infringe on customers’ rights to pay how they and the businesses they patronize see fit.
“Are you going to tell us how to live day to day?” Lueck asked.
Customer Vergil Parker was filling a gas canister, something he said the ordinance would make more difficult.
“Not real crazy about it,” he said.
Harry Banker agreed, citing trouble the ordinance might cause the elderly and disabled. Those customers likely won’t want to go into and out of a gas station more than they need to, especially in winter, he said.
“They have a tough time anyway,” Banker said. “It (the ordinance) makes it rough.”
Roger Leonard, general manager for Lions Quick Mart, also opposes the ordinance. He understands the police department’s perspective in drafting the law, but it’s ultimately anti-business, he said.
One could argue that because the ordinance is citywide, it creates a level playing field for all Janesville gas stations—but that’s not the case, Leonard said. Some motorists might avoid stopping for gas in Janesville if they’re that opposed to the ordinance, he said.
“I wouldn’t have an issue if it was statewide but because it’s one community, it’s not a fair playing field. Not at all,” Leonard said.
Between its four stores, Lions Quick Mart sees about $600 to $800 in annual gas thefts, Leonard said. Measures have been taken to increase security, but before those changes, the stores could have seen more than $10,000 in annual thefts annually, he said.
Businesses can take the initiative in solving their own gas theft problems, Leonard said.
“There’s things you can do if you work at it,” he said.
Lions Quick Mart managers are in discussions about whether their Janesville stores will follow the ordinance if it passes. If they opt out, the stores might pick up customers who hate the law. But they also might attract thieves who know the stores can’t report gas thefts to police, Leonard said.
“I’m not sure which way we’ll go,” he said.
The Janesville City Council will hold a public hearing regarding the ordinance at its meeting Monday, Aug. 28.