Palm Beach County takes step to make gas price signs less confusing

Effort follows Consumer Watchdog investigation

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A Consumer Watchdog investigation is getting action in Palm Beach County.

The county commission introduced an ordinance that would prohibit misleading gas station signs that consumers have complained about to the county since 2009.  It passed a first stage at a commission meeting Tuesday.

Palm Beach County wants to regulate gas station signs so consumers know the price they're paying for gas when they drive by the sign, not after pulling up to the pump.

The Consumer Watchdog found more than 200 drivers told the state last year that gas station signs confused them. Stations use cash and credit pricing.

A low price is advertised on the street, but a higher price is charged at the pump if you use a credit card.

NewsChannel 5 brought the issue to Commissioner Hal Valeche, and he launched a county investigation that led to Tuesday's first reading of the proposed ordinance.

Gas stations would be required to post the maximum price for gas. The station can also advertise a cash discount if the words "cash only" are 6 inches tall and clearly posted next to the price for each discounted type of fuel sold.

Cities in Palm Beach County support the rule, along with one inspector for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"It takes up quite a bit of our time because we have to follow-up on every consumer complaint and recently that has been about 50 percent of all consumer complaints," said Bruce Derosher with the Florida Department of Agriculture.

The Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association says the signs would be costly, especially since more than half of gas stations are mom-and-pop shops.

Many stations say they're charging more for credit card use because they have to pay a fee every time a consumer swipes plastic at the pump.

The one thing this ordinance does not address is debit cards. Are they treated as cash or credit? Consumers have told NewsChannel 5 that it's inconsistent at gas stations.

This issue will be debated at the county commission meeting March 11.

Similar ordinances have passed in Dade and Broward counties.

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