A decision by West Tisbury to buy discounted gasoline from the Vineyard Transit Authority for town vehicles has upset the owners of Up-Island Automotive, who told the town selectmen this week the move has both hurt their business and wounded their pride as longtime business owners in the heart of the village.
“I want to see some of the gas business back, you guys took it away from us — we’ve always been loyal to West Tisbury and we’ve always sold gas to the town,” said owner Pat Jenkinson. “We’re not looking for all of the gas business back, we’d like to have some of it. I don’t think it’s fair. We can’t compete with the VTA.”
The switch was made this week by town administrator Jennifer Rand, who said the town spent $33,770 on gasoline last year for police, fire, highway and animal control officer vehicles. By using the VTA fueling station, which sells gas at nearly a dollar less per gallon, Ms. Rand estimated the town will save about $5,000.
The transit authority has its own 2,500-gallon tank and filling station at its headquarters at the airport business park, and has supplied fuel for its own bus fleet for the past 10 years. The state-funded transit authority sells gas at a fixed weekly cost, based on the Boston low rack price with an additional 28 cents for operating expenses and profit, known as OEP.
Vineyard public schools, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, Martha’s Vineyard Airport, Dukes County, Edgartown and Aquinnah all use the VTA facility to fill up their vehicles. West Tisbury and Chilmark began doing the same this week. Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have their own fueling stations.
VTA administrator Angela Grant said yesterday the prices offered at her facility as of April 6 were $3.48 a gallon for unleaded and $3.66 for diesel. According to the American Automotive Association (AAA) gasoline price tracker, the state average was $3.90 for that week. Gas prices across the Island have hovered around $4.46 for the past month.
The VTA buys its fuel from R.M. Packer Co. in Vineyard Haven and is currently negotiating a new contract for fuel purchase, Ms. Grant said.
The VTA is able to offer lower prices due to its tax-exempt status as a public transit authority, she said, and unlike private gas stations, does not pay state or federal taxes on fuel.
Ms. Rand, who as town administrator is also the procurement officer for the town, said six weeks before she made the move to buy fuel from the VTA, she gave the Jenkinsons the VTA prices and offered Up-Island Auto the opportunity “to meet that or come very close, and it didn’t happen.”
She continued: “The impact of local businesses . . . is not something I have any leeway to do and I am sorry for that. If at some point your gas station can meet the same price the VTA offers in their collective bid, the town will happily return. Until then, we are required by law to get the best price . . . and that is defined by state as the lowest price.”
Reaction from the selectmen was mixed.
Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd called for a town meeting to let voters decide.
“Blast the state regulations, I think we should promote local businesses . . . I wonder what we can do about it, if anything be able to buy petroleum from our local service people,” he said. “This isn’t our money, this is the people’s money and they should have the opportunity to choose.”
Selectman Richard Knabel said he understood the Jenkinsons’ situation, but was cautious about the need to follow state procurement laws.
“I think people have created a very unlevel playing field,” Mr. Knabel said. “I can’t say that I like it and I agree with you that it’s not fair.”
Selectman and board chairman Cynthia Mitchell said more information is needed.
“I don’t know if the board of selectmen has the power to make that decision, maybe they do,” she said. “Let’s find out if there’s any latitude and put it on our agenda as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Joan Jenkinson said the team at Up-Island Auto especially misses the police department coming into the station to gas up the cruisers — and not just because of their loyal business.
“A big part of this to me is that we have hired kids pumping after school or over the summer, and they have good rapport with police department — it’s good for the kids. And that’s gone now,” she said. “I’d like to respectfully ask you to reconsider your decision.”