Something smells funny around here and it’s not gas — at least not mine. Or is it?
While it’s not a gas leak, it could be a gas scam. Certainly the obligations I allegedly have with the propane provider, the price of their gas, and their added surcharges smell and look funny to me of late.
I was unpleasantly surprised at the cost per gallon of propane gas delivered to our home last month to the tune of $4.499 per gallon. I’m not sure of the reason for the 49.9 cents. It might as well be a nice even $4.50 a gallon. This exorbitant price per gallon multiplied by 146 gallons to top off our buried propane tank came to a whopping $649.55.
Almost exactly two years ago in February 2011, I filled the same propane tank from the same propane company for $2.756 per gallon. Now I know the price of propane gas has increased of late like everything else. And shortages of propane in some parts of our nation have been in the news. I understand the economics of supply and demand.
But a 40 percent increase in two years? On top of the increase in the price of the propane itself, in 2011 I paid a fuel “surcharge” (whatever that is) of $3.95 for that nearly 100-gallon delivery of gas — and nothing else except one tax surcharge.
Last month in addition to the — pardon the pun — explosive increase in the price per gallon of propane in just two years, I paid: a transportation surcharge, a safety P&T (I’ve been advised that’s “Program and Training”) surcharge, and two tax surcharges, one a sales tax surcharge and the second a municipal tax surcharge.
I’d like to know from what municipality I’m gaining the tax benefits living out here in unincorporated Onslow County, counties generally not defined as municipalities. On the other hand, the law may define a county as a municipality, pointing out the vagrancies of the law.
But county-shmounty. I don’t mean to be splitting hairs. I helped elect our representatives and commissioners who instituted these additional charges, so I’m at least partially responsible for them — municipal or otherwise.
I accept that I have to pay some taxes to get even the meager benefits from government way out here where you can still hear the cows mooing in the morning. Dad always reminded me that nothing is free except fresh air and a cool breeze, rain drops on a parched tongue, a bird’s song, and sunshine. Certainly winter’s heat isn’t free unless I want to sleep next to a wood fire. Outside. My wife visiting friends. Maybe forever. Oh, a wood fire isn’t free either. I would need an outside burning permit.
Regardless of my reasonableness, though, a 40 percent increase in the price of propane in two years plus a 37 percent increase in surcharges when the 2013 national inflation rate was only 1.5 percent? These massive increases are not reasonable and just don’t pass the smell test.
When we built our home, we were told by the original provider (now sold several times over) that the tank was provided free because we had a gas-pack heater, a gas fireplace and a gas kitchen stove. Now several sales of the gas company later, we’re not only paying exorbitant prices for the gas itself and for so-called “safety programs and training” and other added surcharges and taxes, but we’re paying an annual tank rental fee.
If we choose to change gas providers, we are not permitted to have the new propane gas provider fill the tank we got for “free” (not) — owned by the original gas provider — under penalty of a misuse fine. I allegedly agreed to his policy through several sales of this propane company even though I signed nothing and don’t recollect being advised of this policy. My bust.
Having our current propane provider come out and remove their buried tank? $1,000. I’m not sure if I dig it out whether I can save anything. We haven’t gotten that far yet.
A very nice lady at our current propane company’s customer service sheepishly admitted the cheapest way out of this mess might be to buy my own above ground tank and shop around for a cheaper propane provider of which there are several. Of course, I will still have to pay for my “free” tank’s annual rental even if unused.
Though I’m over 60 years old, I’m still learning. The lessons here? Don’t lock yourself into a company’s product. Retain your liberty for independent action and to allow competition to work in your favor. Read the fine print. Brand loyalty is fine but loyalty is a two-way street. If it smells funny, it probably is.
So, 146 gallons of propane? $649.55 at $4.449 a gallon. Transportation and safety programs and training surcharges and taxes? That’s another $56.56. Tank rental? $51.36. Digging the darn tank out and starting over? $1,000. Doing better research before I buy? Priceless.
And much better smelling in the long run.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.