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Some complain about gas price increases

Monday morning, a resident complained to the Picayune Item about the price increase at RaceTrac for a gallon of regular gas, but at least one other major station was even higher.

RaceTrac’s price on Sunday was $3.499, and company officials bumped the price up Sunday afternoon to $3.599, a 10-cent-per-gallon hike on a gallon of regular gas.

Comparing RaceTrac’s price to other prices throughout the Picayune market finds it is within the range currently being charged, although the jump of 10-cents for RaceTrac was unusual.

While RaceTrac is usually the lowest priced gas in town, matched by Wal-Mart and Bills at Mississippi Highway 43 and Canal, on Monday morning, Wal-Mart and Bill’s both remained at $3.499, despite RaceTrac’s price increase. Those three gas stations are among six operating just off Interstate 59 at Exit 4.

Although RaceTrac took a 10-penny-per-gallon jump, that was not the highest price for regular in town. Exxon, also at Exit 4, posted $3.619 per gallon Monday morning.

The manager at RaceTrac said he was not allowed to talk to the press and referred an Item reporter to a RaceTrac supervisor. The supervisor could not be reached for comment as late as 4 p.m. on Monday. He did not return the Item’s telephone calls for a comment by press deadline at 4 p.m.

While RaceTrac had jumped to $3.599 on Monday morning, it’s main competitors at Exit 4 — Wal-Mart and Bill’s — remained at $3.499 Monday morning, and it remained to be seen if they would match RaceTrac’s new price.

RaceTrac usually sets the pace for gas prices here, usually posting the lowest, immediately followed by Wal-Mart and Bill’s. The lowest gas prices in Pearl River County are usually found at Exit 4.

There are laws governing what’s called “price gouging,” but the charge is hard to prove and hard to make stick. As long as a company is within a wide range of the cost of the product, it can usually get past any charges. It takes an egregious price hike to warrant charges by the state. Other prices around Picayune and Poplarville remained steady. All gas stations in Poplarville were open and pumping gas Monday morning as motorists filled their tanks, said Poplarville Democrat Editor Butch Weir.

In Picayune, lines formed early at all stations as residents filled up their tanks in preparation for Isaac, which was forecast to hit the Louisiana coastline, but things could change now that the storm has entered the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday morning, K&T reportedly was out of high grade gasoline and continued to sell regular at $3.519 a gallon, and Mickey’s One and Two on U.S. Highway 11 were selling regular at $3.509, and Wal-Mart and Bills were at $3.499, Exxon was $3.619, Chevron at $3.559 and Shell at $3.559.

Chevron at Exit 6 was $3.519 and at Exit 10 Keith’s was $3.519.

Despite RaceTrac’s bump of 10 cents, the station was packed Monday morning with motorists filling their tanks, with some lines trailing out of the fuel island.

A spokesperson for the State Attorney General’s office, Jan Schaefer, said the state’s “gouging statute” says “the value received for all goods and services sold within the designated emergency impact area shall not exceed the prices ordinarily charged for comparable goods or services in the same market area at or immediately before the declaration of a state of emergency or local emergency.”

Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency Sunday afternoon.

Added Schaefer, “However, it is important to note that the governor’s state of emergency does not currently include the necessary language to trigger enforcement of this statute. A state of emergency does not do it alone. If the governor adds that language, then folks could call our Consumer Protection Division to report suspected cases. That number is 1-800-281-4418.”

In other areas affected by Isaac, Florida, CBS news reported one station was charging 60-cents-per-gallon more than the average price per gallon in the area, and that raising the price in Florida on what is termed “critical emergency supplies” is illegal when a state of emergency has been declared.

Late Monday in a press release, Attorney General Jim Hood said the current state of emergency declared by the governor “does not allow his office to enforce the price gouging statute.”

Said Hood, “A state of emergency alone does not establish our ability to enforce the price gouging statute. The governor must invoke the necessary language from the Mississippi emergency management laws.”

Officials in the Attorney General’s office said they had received a number of “calls” about upswings in prices, particularly at gas stations in the emergency area. However, since the price gouging statute is not currently in effect, any increase in prices is legal, the press release said.

Said Hood, “Even during a state of emergency, the law still allows a reasonable increase in prices to account for additional supply costs. Retailers just have to be careful to keep their profit margin consistent with what they were getting prior to the proclamation allowing us to enforce the statute.”

Should the governor choose to invoke the necessary language, then the attorney general will immediately begin investigating reported calls, the release said.