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Hempstead sets hearing on law mandating free air for tires

A scheduled hearing to make air for car tires free at all service stations in the unincorporated areas of the Town of Hempstead is expected to draw strong opposition Tuesday.

Since 1978, the town has mandated free air at service stations, but had an agreement with vending machine companies allowing for cash-operated equipment as long as individuals could get free air on demand.

“This is positive legislation for motorists,” said Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino in a statement Friday. “Some motorists have complained that the free air supply at local gas stations has not been readily accessible.

“Providing free air for the people who patronize local gas stations is good business and it’s the law,” he said. “My new amendment will ensure that gas stations do not ... charge motorists for something that should be free.”

Critics said the proposed law would result in poorly maintained equipment at service stations.

“Motorists in the town would be back to hundreds of broken and improperly maintained machines with no service company to maintain them,” said Bill McCabe, the president of Service Station Vending Equipment Inc., based in Floral Park.

His business makes, installs and repairs the machines that fill up tires. He added that the law, if passed, would also “create an enormous burden on an already financially strapped and heavily regulated industry — the gas station.”

McCabe pointed to a letter from November 1991 when Joseph Mondello was the Hempstead town presiding supervisor and Donald J. Levinson was the town attorney. Reading from it, McCabe said it was the opinion of the town that “coin-operated machines ... are not in violation ... of the building zone ordinance of the town ... as long as such machine provides for free air ...”

McCabe said “if the new law passes, I will challenge it in court. It definitely seems unconstitutional to force businesses to give a service for free.”

Ralph Bombardierie, the executive director of the Gasoline and Auto Service Dealers Association in Inwood, said “if they pass this law, that won’t be the end of it. We would consider a law suit.”

Tariq Khan, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association in Melville, said: “I hope all of these people working for the town work for free. Nobody talked to us about this issue. Would you go into any other establishment and demand free goods or services?”

The hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. in Town Hall.

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