Propane complaints triple in a matter of days - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Propane complaints triple in a matter of days

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MADISON (WKOW) -- State officials say complaints over potential price-gouging by propane dealers have tripled in the past ten days.

On Feb. 3, records compiled by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) showed 30 complaints had been filed.

Data released Thursday show complaints against propane dealers total 108.

DATCP spokesperson Jerad Albracht says complaints against propane dealers are being expedited.

Dealers have said the price-for-gallon for propane - in some cases, more than quadruple per gallon rates of last year - reflect their costs, with supplies tight, and regional weather significantly colder than recent years.

Albrecht said some of the complaints involve customers with pre-paid, propane contracts, claiming dealers failed to honor contracts, or introduced high fees in addition to agreed-upon charges.

Jayna Zobel of Wisconsin Dells contacted DATCP representatives this week, and may file a complaint, after her propane company driver carried out an unannounced, propane tank refill at a price of $6.47 per gallon, compared to $1.67 a gallon in 2012.

"I felt taken advantage of," Zobel tells 27 News.

"There was no heads-up whatsoever (on cost), which was the shocking part," Zobel says.

Attorney General candidate, Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) tells 27 News state officials, including Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen,  should be investigating whether collusion on prices within the industry is taking place.

But Van Hollen spokesperson Dana Brueck says DATCP is appropriately screening and investigating complaints, and under the law, the attorney general must wait for referrals before considering whether civil or criminal violations have taken place.

"The law is pretty clear," Brueck says.

"They shouldn't be passing the buck at a time when Wisconsin consumers are being raked over the coals," Richards says.

Richards says his interpretation of the attorney general's legal latitude allows for more action. "The department of justice has the ability to work on anti-trust matters, investigate collusion," Richards tells 27 News.

In a statement, Attorney General candidate, Republican Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel offers no comment on the breadth of the attorney general's power to investigate potential price-gouging, but says, if elected, he would "...use every measure within my legal authority to crack down of price-gouging."

Democratic candidates Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne have yet to respond to requests for comment on the propane pricing situation.

"I am unsure of why there is a shortage," Zobel says. "We're in a cold state, so you plan for these things."

State officials say people who wish to alert investigators, or file a complaint, over propane company practices can call 800-422-7128.
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