County OKs Ordinance To Prevent Deceptive Gas Price Posting

The Palm Beach County Commission approved an ordinance Tuesday to prevent gas station owners from displaying deceptive prices.

The ordinance prohibits practices such as displaying gas prices conspicuously, with the “cash price” stipulation posted so small that it is difficult to see until a motorist pulls into the station.

“The ordinance is requiring any gas station that wishes to post a cash price on their sign advertising that price, that the lettering has to be a minimum of 6 inches high, so it’s much more visible to the public,” said Assistant County Administrator Vince Bonvento, who added that sellers would be allowed up to one year to retrofit signs to meet the requirements.

During the interim, if cash discounts are offered, the sellers must place a sign at the pump.

“I think this is going to increase transparency, which is the reason I brought it up in the first place,” Commissioner Hal Valeche said.

Palm Beach County Mayor Priscilla Taylor asked what the penalties will be, and Bonvento said a warning will be given initially, followed by a $250 fine if the station owner fails to comply.

Gas station owner Kevin Dalton was one of several to speak in opposition to the ordinance.

“To suggest that any gas station owner is misleading the public is certainly an untruth,” Dalton said. “That’s not what was intended by this.”

Dalton, who owns several gas stations, said gasoline sales provide his lowest profit margin, and that he pays close to $11,000 a month in credit card fees for each station.

“The credit card companies are making more off the gas than I am,” he said. “That should be illegal.”

Dalton added that he thought gas station owners had been misled when the commission said it would delay a decision until July, allowing station owners to offer more input into the ordinance.

At a meeting last week, the commissioners decided to put an ordinance in place quickly in order to beat pending state legislation that could prevent future local regulation.

Valeche said the county ordinance still allows posting of cash discounts and the ability for customers to take advantage of it.

“We’re certainly not trying to exclude that,” he said. “I am highly pro-business, and I think my colleagues know that.”

Valeche said the deceptive practices of “a few bad apples” are ruining it for everyone else.

“I’ve seen for myself, and I’ve heard it from lots of people, that there are deceptions going on,” he said. “We do want to have a uniform standard so that members of the public understand exactly what they’re buying into.”

Valeche made a motion to approve the ordinance, which passed unanimously.