El Mirage Officials Snub City's Only Gas Station, Take Business to Neighboring Cities

El Mirage city officials, cops and firefighters filled up their gas tanks at the city's only gas station for more than a year and a half without any qualms about the fuel prices.

That's back when Joe David, the shop owner, was a political ally.

But now that David started opposing a proposed property tax increase in El Mirage, city officials are taking their business -- and city sales tax dollars -- to neighboring cities.

El Mirage spends about $20,000 a month on fuel costs, estimates David, who owns the Shell gas station on El Mirage and Cactus roads.

City Manager Spencer Isom did not return New Times' phone calls seeking comment.

David tells New Times that he never had any issues with the current slate of elected officials.

In fact, he says he helped get them elected.

He says he allowed now-Mayor Lana Mook and the other candidates in her camp put their signs in his store and even told his customers that they should vote for them.

David, who felt a certain obligation to "take care of them," would throw in discounted car washes for city vehicles, free car wash upgrades, and some elected officials would even help themselves to free car washes.

Then, elected officials agreed to ask voters to approve an $8.5 million bond in November to build a police station and a YMCA with a swimming pool. It would mean a property tax increase for residents and business owners.

"I already pay $75,000 a year in property taxes," David says. "I can't afford anymore, and neither can these poor people living in the city." (In addition to the gas station, David owns 9 acres of property on the same corner.)

He allowed El Mirage residents who want to recall Mook, over higher water rates and now, this bond election that would increase property tax increase, to put a petition on his store counter.

On August 26, at least two councilmen -- Roy Delgado and Jack Palladino -- spotted the petitions.

That same day, Palladino sent an e-mail to City Manager Spencer Isom, suggesting the city take its business elsewhere, writing that he "can't help wondering what kind of savings we would have if we shopped around for a better price."

Also on that day, Delgado's name appeared on a complaint to Shell corporate officials letting them know he was "extremely upset that this one station in El Mirage has an owner that is soliciting signatures against their mayor."

Delgado tells New Times that he won't be spending any of his money there.

"I'm a customer and I have the right to go elsewhere," he says, balking at critics' assertions that a bond election will increase property taxes too much. "The residents are voting on this. We're not forcing them."

He adds that a recall election would cost taxpayers about $40,000.

After concerns were raised about prices -- again, more than a year after they'd loyally fueling up at the El Mirage station to support local businesses -- David told city officials that if they obtained a free Shell fleet card, they could earn a 3 to 4 percent rebate on their fuel costs.

Palladino wasn't swayed, and apparently sent out an e-mail about boycotting the Shell station.

He also wrote to Isom on September 7 that, even with the rebate, "I think that we have to continue to shop for the best fuel price ... if he comes out the lowest, fine. If Mr. David can guarantee the city will receive the lowest price for fuel than [sic] any other station in the area, then we should look at what he has to offer. I would think a discount of 3 to 4 percent would come out to what we are paying at the other stations. Is there any other incentive he can add for the city?"

City Manager Isom sent a letter to David on August 31 telling him that it is the "city's practice to, when all things are equal, to shop local."

He writes to the El Mirage business owner that "... 'equal' isn't an absolute as there are other things to consider." Isom never explains what other factors the city is considering in deciding where to spend its money.

David knows.

"This doesn't have anything to do with price, it's all about politics," he says. "They didn't have any problem with the prices before."

At the end of the letter, after notifying David that city staff will be periodically be searching for the cheapest gas prices at stations within two miles of the city, Isom writes that "again, 'equal' is not an absolute."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo