North Fork residents socked by soaring fuel prices may soon find sweet relief – but not as soon as expected.
A tax cap passed last week by will ultimately translate into savings for residents. The cap puts the brakes on the county’s sales tax levy once gas and diesel prices reach $3 a gallon
But due to a snafu regarding the county filing the law with New York State, the cap, which was supposed to take effect last week, won’t take place for three months.
“There was a technical snafu in the first version,” said Bill Faulk, legislative aide to . who co-sponsored the legislation. The law wasn’t filed with New York State, Faulk explained. The Suffolk County legislature adopted a new version on Thursday that will take affect on June 1.
And that has some gas station owners seeing red.
“We got screwed again,” said Robert Chase, owner of the station located at Depot Road and Route 25 in Cutchogue.
“This cap will limit the windfall profit the county makes as the price of gasoline continues to rise towards $4 per gallon,” said Faulk. “Government should never benefit from the hardships of its citizens.”
The cap, said Faulk, will relate to modest savings for residents.
“However, every dollar back in their pockets is a dollar the government cannot spend.”
As fuel costs continue to soar on the North Fork, residents have been feeling the pinch – and the tax cap will help take the pressure off.
“It is a few cents and it will be helpful to the consumer,” said John Romanelli, owner of in Southold. “They’re not going to retire off the savings, but I guess every little bit helps.”
Sudden spikes in fuel prices hit local gas stations hard. In Cutchogue, Tevfik Kocan, manager of the station on Route 25, said dramatic cost increases cripple profits. Last week, regular gas was selling for approximately $3.69 a gallon.
“If, for example, gas is at $3.53 a gallon, I’m making 15 cents, but paying tax – seven cents to the government," he said. "We sell gas but we don’t make any money.”
According to the United States Energy Information Administration, gas prices rose steadily in New York State in February, from $3.36 to $3.54 over the 30 day period. Gas prices have risen .7 percent since the same time period last year.
On Long Island, the picture is even more bleak: According to longislandgasprices.com, prices at Valero in Cutchogue have crested to $$3.63 per gallon for regular gas on Monday, despite the fact that for some time, the station had managed to hold the line, tying recently for lowest prices in the area.
“We just try to stay competitive,” said Chase.
At Port Automotive and station in Greenport, Frank, a manager who asked that his last name not be given, said local stations bear the brunt of the price hikes.
“It affects business," he said. "People come in with $2 in change to buy just enough gas to get to Southold.”
Prices at the Empire station in Southold– which is owned by the same company – are five cents cheaper, he said.
“People will go to the supermarket and pay more for Skippy peanut better, because it tastes better than the generic brand.” But they bicker over gas prices, he said. “I don’t get it.”
Rick Reich, who owns the Greenport property where Empire is sited, says the public is under a misconception when they see gas prices rising.
“They think we must be making a fortune. But we’re not," he said.
Instead, he said, as insurance costs and Department of Environmental Conservation fines continue to escalate, operating a local gas station becomes a less profitable venture.
Billy Hands, who owns and operates the , agreed. “I don’t make money on gas.”
Of the new gas tax cap, Hands said there has been there has been no educational outreach to local business owners on the logistics of the new plan. But he added that the fuel wars have not impacted steady business at his station.
“People out here, if they’re going to drive, they’re going to drive, and they’ll pay for gas.”
Romanelli said as gas prices continue to skyrocket, that could change, and residents might think twice before hopping into the car for a ride.
“We just got to the high spike in prices,” he said. “If these increases continue for a month or two, things will change dramatically.”
, who represents the North Fork, said the measure was conceived at a time when gas was under $3 per gallon.
"We knew the volatility of the commodities market," he said. "We voted for the best plan for the worst situation."
To naysayers who say the tax cap won't result in significant savings, Losquadro disagreed.
"I can tell you with absolute certainty that it does have an impact," he said.
Losquadro, who lives in Shoreham and travels to Albany regularly paid only $3.49 a gallon Monday for gas in Massachusetts.
"That's almost 30 cents cheaper a gallon than on Long Island because Massachusetts has a different tax structure than New York," he said. "For those who say it doesn't have an impact — it absolutely does."
He added the legislature worked to pass the measure and he co-sponsored the resolution. Although it took a few tries to get the legislation approved, Losquadro said the cap "is something I'm very happy about."