Using cash may help as gas tax goes up

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Just past noon Wednesday at Atlantic Oil Co. on East Innes Street, the parking lot was deserted.
The silver tanks of fuel and oil seemed to shimmer in the heat.
Outside, by the road, is a sign with letters and numbers printed, advertising regular unleaded for $3.39 per gallon.
At that time, Atlantic Oil’s nearest neighbor, the Rushco BP at 1518 E. Innes St., was advertising regular for $3.45.
On the opposite side of the street, the Citgo station was selling regular for $3.49.
Inside the office at Atlantic Oil, Alfred Price was smiling.
For several weeks, his company has been selling regular unleaded at lower-than-average prices to customers who pay with cash or a debit card.
“We were able to purchase some (fuel) at a lower rate,” Price said.
Atlantic Oil has been in business for decades.
Nowadays, Price said, they don’t try to compete with commercial gas stations, most of the time.
“We’re not a big supplier like BP,” he said.
“To be honest, it’s just something to bring some business in.”
Atlantic Oil is “a winter business,” Price said. Most of their money is made selling heating oil to homes and businesses in cold weather.
That, he said, and supplying fuel to commercial fleets that buy on monthly accounts.
But since fuel prices have started to edge down from their highs last month, Price said, it’s been worth it to advertise to people driving by in cars and trucks.
“Three or four every hour, that’s a lot for us,” Price said.
“If we had to live on our gas sales, we’d have gone out of business a long time ago.”
Although oil prices have been falling in recent weeks, gas prices have been slower to respond.
Out on South Main Street, the Hot Spot station was advertising fuel at $3.55 a gallon for regular. But customers who paid cash could shave 10 cents off per gallon.
“Credit’s higher for us,” assistant manager Carole Rusmissell said.
Some gas stations offer a lower price for those who pay cash.
Fuel buyers who want to get the lowest price should keep their eyes open for those signs advertising a price per gallon for cash.
At Atlantic Oil, Price said the low per-gallon rate was good for cash or debit, but not credit, again because of processing fees.
Even so, in and around Salisbury, the majority of stations visited offer the same price for cash or credit.
They may not offer the lowest price per gallon, however.
And there’s another factor, Rusmissell said. Her station has friendly staff.
“I’ve got very loyal customers,” she said.
One of those customers, Margaret McCora of China Grove, was at Hot Spot and spoke up.
“Other stores just act like they’re better than you,” McCora said.
She said she’d shop at Hot Spot even if the price was five cents higher.
Gas tax hike
Prices at the pump continue to head downward, but there will be a minor change at the end of the week.
Friday, as the state sales tax drops by a penny, the state’s gasoline excise tax will rise by 2.5 cents per gallon.
That will bring the total state tax per gallon to 35 cents.
Federal excise taxes add another 18.4 cents per gallon.
According to the American Petroleum Institute, North Carolina’s gasoline taxes are the 13th highest in the nation.
There are no local or county taxes on gasoline.
Some have expressed concern about gas being cheaper in neighboring counties than in Rowan.
Some have even asked if there’s something Rowan County commissioners can do to bring down gas prices.
They can’t, station managers say.
“It’s not up to them, to us or to the consumers,” Rusmissell said.
Hot Spot’s prices are set by the corporate offices of R.L. Jordan Oil in Spartanburg, S.C., she said.
Price said Atlantic Oil sets prices based on what they pay for wholesale fuel. And that, he said, can change day by day, sometimes based on rumors and speculation.
Fuel rebates
Meanwhile, other retailers, including grocery stores, have advertised loyalty cards and rebate programs to give customers discounts on gas.
Locally, Food Lion has advertised that it won’t take part in gas rebate programs, instead focusing on keeping grocery prices low.
And there’s one other rebate program Salisbury residents might not benefit from.
Wednesday, Walmart announced a 10-cent-per-gallon discount program at affiliated Murphy USA and Walmart-branded gas stations.
Customers who buy fuel using a Walmart gift card, reloadable debit card or Walmart credit card can save 10 cents per gallon through Sept. 30.
But the Murphy station across from Salisbury’s Walmart, at 323 S. Arlington St., is not a part of that program.
A station employee, who did not give her name, said Salisbury’s station falls under the company’s Murphy Express division and is not included in the promotion.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.