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Suffolk won't require signs with credit prices for gas

The gasoline pumps in front of the Metro

The gasoline pumps in front of the Metro Mart gas station on Fort Salonga Road in Northport display different prices for cash or credit card purchases on Sept. 3, 2014. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Suffolk lawmakers Tuesday night voted down a controversial proposal that would have forced gasoline dealers to put up roadside signs to disclose their high credit card prices.

The measure was rejected 6-11, with five Democrats joining the six-member Republican bloc. Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) abstained.

Backers said it would have protected consumers from the 15 to 20 rogue gas stations charging credit card prices of at least $1 more than the cash prices -- raising the cost to fill up by $15 to $20 or more. The proposal would have required gas stations to post roadside signs disclosing their credit card prices only if they were 5 percent higher than the cash prices.

"It's a common-sense bill," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk). "Some stations are charging a 25 percent surcharge for gas and that hurts."

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he backed the measure because "the consumers have a right to know."

But Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said the proposal "crosses a line. People in business have a right to strategize to find a way to make a living."

"This is really overkill," said Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). Though he said his eyes are failing at age 50, he said, "I can see clear as a bell the difference between the credit card and cash price at the pump."

Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) called the bill "anti-consumer" because roadside signs would create a "disincentive for cash discounts" and create higher prices.

He also disliked that the bill targeted mainly one owner. "It is bad policy to use legislation to go after one owner who is not breaking the law," he said.

An owner, Steve Keshtgar, who officials say owns about a dozen stations that charge high credit card prices, showed up for the first time to oppose the measure, calling it "overregulation."

"Consumers are extremely happy" with his cash prices, he said, "and it is extremely hard to compete this market."

Legis. William Lindsay (D-Oakdale) said he was "extremely disappointed" by the vote. "Unfortunately a specific group of lawmakers chose to protect the interests of the gasoline industry" over consumers, he said.

Kevin Beyer, president of the 600-member Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, said he was pleased that so many lawmakers saw the unfairness of the proposal.

"I'm happy, but I'm also upset we wasted so much time on this. . . . We have never deceived anyone." However, he added, "With all the publicity, at least the consumer knows what to look for."Lawmakers also:

-- Approved a measure requiring the county to hold a referendum before changing the county's watershed program, funded with a quarter-cent of county sales tax.

-- Tabled a resolution on a nearly $30 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists over use of ther sewer assessment stablization fund. Greogry said approving the settlement now would bind the county to making payments and take away the choice of voters to back the deal in a November referendum. -- Approved a contract for a Peekskill-based nonprofit, Hudson River HealthCare Inc., to take over operation of county health centers in Patchogue and Shirley. The administration lowered the savings estimate from $31 million to $22 million over five years and estimated that of the 92 people who worked at the health centers, as many as 15 might not be absorbed by Hudson or Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, which operated the facilities for the county before the switch. The takeover should begin Nov. 1.

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