The mystery over gasoline prices in Vermont continues. Even U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is investigating, and called for a federal probe into unusually high prices. Chittenden County prices have traditionally been among the highest in the state.
"I say there is something wrong and I have noticed and a lot of people have noticed. People in northern Vermont have noticed when the same company owning a gas station in the Burlington area is charging -- as was the case just a couple of weeks ago -- something like 23 cents more for a gallon of gas as their company did in Middlebury," Sanders said.
The owner of those stations is R.L. Vallee. WCAX-TV was not able to company president Skip Vallee.
One independent gas station owner, Vince Dattilio, who has been in business for 46 years agrees that prices are too high in Chittenden county. "I think they are outrageous. I think they are too high. I think these guys are getting a lot of money -- somebody is, it isn't me. I make 3 cents per gallon. They make the rest so they are gauging us is what they are doing," he said.
Dattilio says he calls his supplier, A R Sandry from Greenfield, Massachusetts, almost every day asking about lowering the prices. They have the Sunoco franchise in this area and own many of the stations. Dattilio is one of the few independent owners.
"They are unruly. My opinion is they make up what they loose on other highways. The prices are low in other places and we make it up in Chittenden County," he said.
But explaining just how gasoline is priced is no easy task. The gasoline comes from different sources for different parts of the state, which dealers say effects the price. There are other costs as well.
"There is a lot of variables. There is credit card fees, the cost of operation trucking -- variety of issues -- no easy answer on how gas prices move," said Jim Harrison with the Vermont Grocer's Association. "Competition is paramount and the important part is people are looking at the pump just as consumers are.
Senator Sanders has suggested that Costo should be allowed to sell gasoline here. The retail giant usually charges on average about 19 cents less a gallon and the competition, Sanders said, would help drive gas prices down. Costo has been trying to get permits for its store in Colchester. The plan is currently hung up in the permitting process. It is not a popular idea with fuel dealers or the Grocer's Association.
"It is also interesting and perhaps ironic that Senator Sanders is pulling Costo into this debate and issue and railing against small family owned businesses and distributors who work very hard to give back to the community," Harrison said.
"It is not a question of being pro Costco or anti Costco, it is a question of making sure people in a whole section of Vermont do not get ripped off in terms of high prices they are paying for gasoline," Sanders said.
In June, according to the Oil Price Information Service, an independent fuel price research firm, Burlington was the most lucrative gas market in the Northeast.
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