In Northwest Florida gas prices all over, while not as low as Fort Walton Beach, were better on a per gallon average than they were a year ago and even a month ago. Prices had dropped by an average of 28 cents from a month ago and $1.11 from a year ago, AAA reported.
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CRESTVIEW — In a season of historically low gas prices, local leaders are hearing grumbling from Hub City area consumers.
That’s because while the cost of a gallon has reached as low as $1.34 in Fort Walton Beach, about the best price anyone is finding in Crestview is $1.85.
Crestview City Manager Tim Bolduc had no answer to the question of why.
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“This is a question I am constantly answering on every interactive FB group here in Crestview,” Bolduc said when reached by email Monday.
“Unfortunately we have no control over how these prices are set, but we are as disappointed as anyone with them being so much higher than the south end of the county,” he said.
On the other end of the Okaloosa County spectrum, the cost of gas in and around Fort Walton Beach must seem ridiculously low to folks who had become accustomed to paying more than $2 a gallon.
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Prices had fallen Monday in Fort Walton Beach to the $1.44-$1.48 range. The $1.34 price was reserved for Sam’s Club members only.
On Monday, the national average for the price of a gallon of gas, as reported by AAA, was $1.77 a gallon. Florida’s average of $1.78 per gallon remained the highest in the Southeast and South regions. It was the only state in those two regions, other than New Mexico, whose prices rose above the national average.
But in Northwest Florida gas prices all over, while not as low as Fort Walton Beach, were better on a per gallon average than they were a year ago and even a month ago. Prices had dropped by an average of 28 cents from a month ago and $1.11 from a year ago, AAA reported.
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Two Tom Thumb stations on U.S. Highway 98 on Okaloosa Island had gasoline priced at $1.51 a gallon, and gas stations along 98 in Destin appeared committed to a $1.69 price tag.
A Tom Thumb in Florosa, also on 98 near Hurlburt Field, had petrol marked at $1.79 a gallon. Prices in Niceville were about a dime less per gallon than they were in Crestview and Shalimar prices rivaled those in Fort Walton Beach.
Gasoline prices have cratered as nations all over the world have emphasized quarantining to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. AAA’s Monday newsletter said prices are expected to continue to fall through the week.
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“AAA forecasts that the national average will continue to decrease into the next month, possibly dipping as law as $1.65,” spokeswoman Jeanette Casselant said in the release. “We haven’t seen gas prices that cheap since January of 2009.”
Crestview’s gasoline prices, though, have always been higher than those in other parts of the region.
In 2006, then-Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist charged a handful of Crestview gas station/convenience store owners with fixing the prices of gasoline sold in the city.
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Ryan Phillips, owner of Fill-Ups Food Stores and Robert Tate of Tate Enterprises, were among those charged with collaborating to keep prices at a certain level. Phillips owned more than 50 Northwest Florida gasoline distribution businesses at one time.
The legal action was settled in 2009 when Phillips, Tate and others involved agreed to pay a $275,000 fine and desist from engaging in future bid rigging.
A report filed in 2011 stated Phillips had sold 30 of 52 properties to Sun State Oil, a fuel supplier based in Orlando.
Efforts to reach Phillips were unsuccessful, but his former attorney, Gil Powell, said Phillips still owns 12 gas station/convenience stores in Northwest Florida.
County Commissioner Graham Fountain, whose district includes a portion of Crestview, said the topic of high gas prices in the city did not begin with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
One theory floated among those irritated by the high prices is that Crestview must collect a higher fuel tax than other municipalities. Bolduc insisted that is not the case.
“These companies are starting with the exact same tax rate as others in the county,” he said. “The market is allowing them to sell at these rates, so it continues.”
One issue, Fountain said, could be that a seeming majority of Crestview area gas stations are operated as Tom Thumb stores. Tom Thumb is owned by the National Kroger Co.
All of those locations in and around Crestview seemed to be selling gasoline Sunday at a consistent $1.85 per gallon.
Another factor suggested by Fountain is that Interstate 10 runs through Crestview. Gas stations off the Crestview I-10 interchange charge even higher prices than in the downtown area. Prices of $1.92 and $1.96 were noted Sunday.
Fountain was in agreement with Bolduc that the Crestview gas stations appear to be charging higher prices because the free market allows them to do so.
“As long as people go and buy, that’s what the market will bear,” he said. “I guarantee if everybody quits buying gas there and just goes down the road those prices will drop like a rock.”