ASHLAND — Jeff Anderson has been keeping an eye on gas prices in Ashland since he moved there in 2000. Earlier this year, he began noticing higher prices than those in Columbia.
On any given day, Anderson said, gas prices in Ashland ranged from 10 to 30 cents more per gallon than in Columbia, and he believes the town government is losing tax revenue from Ashland residents filling their tanks in Columbia.
Anderson, a city alderman, drafted a letter to operators of four local gas stations: Casey's General Store, MFA Oil Co. Warrenton Oil Co. and Phillips 66. The letter was signed on Aug. 8 by Mayor Gene Rhorer, Anderson and other aldermen.
The letter offers an economic incentive: The city will give all of its gasoline business to the first retailer who agrees to keep prices in Ashland the same as Columbia for one year.
"The city of Ashland would like to work with your company to bring parity to the Columbia/Ashland market in the form of an agreement to purchase all of our city fuel from your company, if your company agrees to match Columbia gas prices in Ashland for one year," the letter states.
"If we can just get one company to go for our offer, I am very confident the others will have little choice but to follow," Alderman Tony Taggart said.
The city put a 5 p.m. Aug. 29 deadline on its offer. When aldermen last met on Tuesday, there had been no response.
Efforts to reach several of the companies that received the letter were unsuccessful, but Ron Leone, executive director of Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, expressed surprise at the request.
"I've never heard of anything like this," Leone said. "You'd think City Council would have better things to do than tinkering with the free market."
The letter cites a study conducted at MU in May 2013 that found residents of Ashland often seek services in Columbia.
"We found out that 80 percent of the money spent by the citizens of Ashland goes to Columbia," Taggart said. "We're working on cutting that percentage down as much as possible."
On Friday afternoon, two gas stations in Ashland reported unleaded regular at $3.21 while gas prices at three different stations in Columbia were $3.19.
Anderson remains confident in the offer.
"Big corporations move slow; there's a process," he said. "For now, we just wait."
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