By John McMillan
Commissioner Alabama Agriculture and Industry
You may not read about this issue in the press coverage of what’s happening in the Alabama Legislature. But, as a matter of course, I thought it best to keep you updated on our efforts at the Department of Agriculture & Industries in moving forward toward a more effective and cost-efficient way of doing the people’s business.
First and foremost, we face an impossible task for inspecting all measuring devices in Alabama, given our severe budget limitations. Prominent in this responsibility is the calibration of some 100,000 gasoline and diesel pumps at service stations in Alabama. When I first came into office in January 2011, we were hit with proration that forced reduction of nearly 100 employees in our department.
Weights & Measures, the division responsible for calibrating fuel pumps, was reduced from 28 to 5 inspectors. Truth is, it would take many times the prior number of inspectors to certify all fuel pumps and scales in Alabama each year. As a result, we looked for a solution to this problem that was “outside the box” and did not result in increasing the size of government.
The solution we came up with is now contained in legislation recently cleared by the agriculture committees in both the Alabama House and Senate. In that legislation (HB 357/SB 261), now awaiting a vote in both houses, retailers will have the responsibility of obtaining annual certification of their fuel pumps and scales from technicians licensed by our department.
An overwhelming number of retailers now have this service done regularly to their measuring devices, as exact measurement reduces the margin of error. At $3.50+ per gallon of gasoline, even a slight error in a fuel pump’s calibration can mean hundreds of dollars a day in lost revenue for a retailer. On the other hand, it can mean significant overcharges to consumers.
Our Weights & Measurement inspectors will have the responsibility of licensing private certification inspectors, just as they now do for several hundred private inspectors in Alabama. But, the difference is that the new law will require private technicians to report their results to the Department of Agriculture & Industries, as well as place a sticker on each pump and scale as a notice to all consumers that the device is accurate. Our own inspectors also will “spot check” retail locations to assure the accuracy of certifications.
You can be assured that our reaching out to the market place for a solution is much more effective and less costly than had we sought a “government fix” that would have resulted in more bureaucracy and higher costs to taxpayers.
Please, if you agree with me that this is a sound government solution, tell your state senator and state representative to support this legislation.