Chamber fights high gas prices

Inequality: Members say Salmon Arm rates are driving business out of town

No parity: City consistently has higher gas prices than other nearby communities.

No parity: City consistently has higher gas prices than other nearby communities.

Having higher gas prices than neighbouring communities isn’t doing Salmon Arm businesses any favours.

Last Wednesday, the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce emailed its 300-plus membership a survey focused on petrol pricing in the Shuswap-Okanagan.  The goal of the survey is to help determine the economic impact higher prices are having on business.

Within 24 hours, the chamber had received 55 completed surveys. According to chamber president Jim Kimmerly, this is already one of the best responses the chamber has had to a survey. And from the results so far, Kimmerly already has a good idea of the general feeling in the business community.

“There definitely is high frustration with the way pricing has gone here over the years,” said Kimmerly. “And the way it impacts business, that just adds more to it. It’s something that really needs to be seriously looked at.”

The survey asks only three questions. The first is, do you believe higher gas prices give another reason to shop out of town? Forty-nine (89 per cent) out of the 55 said yes. Forty-seven (85 per cent) answered yes to the second question: “In the respondent’s opinion, it would make a significant positive impact to your business if gas prices were more in line with other cities in the region.”

Finally, respondents were asked how much of a difference in their annual revenue they’d expect to see from improved gas prices. Eighteen answered between one and five per cent, 12 between five to seven per cent and 12  between seven and 10 per cent. Seven replied “other.”

Comments on surveys included:

“Gas prices need to be lowered and our town needs to focus on being open for business;”

“Surrounding Shuswap communities either come to Salmon Arm or go to those other centres. Fair gas prices could potentially bring more than 10 per cent;” and

“I do not own a retail business, but I only gas up in SA if I absolutely need to. Otherwise, Enderby is my destination.”

The survey notes how since Aug. 2, gas prices in the city have been between five and 10 cents per litre higher than neighbouring cities.

“I’ve been tracking gas prices between Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm – I started this on the first of August – and we’re pretty much at a constant 138.9 (per litre) – we were 139.9 on Aug. 1st…,” said Kimmerly. “Kelowna’s is constant (134.9) and so is Vernon (135.9). But look what goes on in Kamloops. It was 128.9 on Aug. 1, and now it’s 123.9. This is a huge difference. The first gas station is 45 to 50 minutes down the road from here, and you’re looking at 15 cents.”

Kimmerly recognizes Kamloops’ situation is different with the competition a particular retailer brings, but he feels Salmon Arm could at least be on par with Vernon and Kelowna. The survey, he explains, was prompted by comments from a chamber member who thought the organization should look at gas prices in the area to see if something could be done.

“I know, just from my own experience, that for a lot of my clients it’s been a source of frustration for a long time…,” said Kimmerly, suggesting the lack of political will to address the matter stems from a possible fear of losing out on gas tax revenue. However, Kimmerly says the chamber board will likely be sending a letter to the City of Salmon Arm, expressing a desire for council to take action.

“We’re going to compile all this, give it out to our board members and decide how we’re going to handle this, with an effort to try to get these gas prices more in line with the surrounding areas,” said Kimmerly, “which will no doubt mean talking to the city, and I will probably talk with (Shuswap MLA) Greg Kyllo a bit to find out some of the things that he did.”

Part of Kyllo’s campaign for Sicamous council in 2011 included an investigation into why gas prices in that community were typically five cents more than in Salmon Arm.

The Sicamous and District Chamber of Commerce got onboard, and together they posted some of their findings on YouTube.

In January,  after being elected to council, Kyllo helped encourage council to address the matter with gas companies and local station managers.

A week later, the price at the pump dropped from 124.9 to 119.9, putting it on par with Salmon Arm, and it’s stayed as such ever since.

“If they can do it there, we can do it here. There’s no reason why it can’t be,”  says Kimmerly. “It’s just got to be championed, with organizations like the local chamber and with our city council.”