Do you check the prices of the items you buy at the store to make sure they ring up the way they are supposed to?
The County Ag Commissioner’s Office advises you to do so, and if the price is not right, get the store to rectify it. If the store is not responsive, call the Ag Commissioner’s Office at (805) 934-6200. They will usually investigate within 24 hours, according to Guy Tingos, deputy director of the office.
Often mistakes are made when an item is on sale or just after it goes off sale. A store may forget to take the sales price off the shelf although it has changed in the database. The customer is entitled to the lowest posted or quoted price, whether the price is in an advertisement or on the shelf.
In November 2010, the county in conjunction with the state conducted a survey to find out the rate of overcharges countywide. Inspectors purchased 380 items from 25 stores including mini marts, auto parts, department, hardware, and grocery stores. They were overcharged on 28 items, or 7.3 percent of the cases — almost three times the statewide average of 2.6 percent.
Because of that, the county decided to inspect a percentage of stores every year, rather than just responding to complaints. The program began in May and is funded by fees ranging from $40 to $240 on stores that use bar code readers (scanners) to determine check out prices.
The program is designed to educate businesses and the public about pricing regulations and detect scanner inaccuracies, according to Chris Tyler, Weights and Measures Inspector. Any pricing errors will be corrected before the inspector leaves the store. The goal is to have the stores be in compliance with the law while protecting the consumer. Businesses that continue to have overcharges after the initial inspection and compliance assistance will face further enforcement action.
After the inspectors have finished a price verification inspection, they will request that a sticker be affixed to the register. These stickers will provide customers with Weights and Measures contact information.
The Ag Commissioner’s Office also inspects all commercial devices every year, such as gas pumps, scales in grocery stores, taxi meters, truck scales, and electric and gas meters in mobile home parks. This not only helps assure the consumer that measuring devices are accurate, but also businesses. It helps level the playing field, so they don’t find the gas station down the block pumping 9/10th of a gallon for every gallon charged, giving it an unfair advantage.
The Ag Commissioner’s Office is also tasked with inspecting plant materials for pests, to make sure pests are not brought in from outside of the area. This is especially important since agriculture contributes more than $1 billion to the local economy.
The office also monitors the application of pesticides to make sure farmers are using the chemicals that are registered for the crop, that they are applied at the recommended rate and that safety gear is used. Inspectors often drive around looking for pesticide applications since they are not usually notified when pesticides will be sprayed.
We thank the Ag Commissioner’s Office for their role in protecting both consumers and businesses and we urge each of you to check the prices of the items when you check out. Bringing overcharged items to the attention of the store or Ag Commissioner’s Office helps not only you, but the next person who buys the same item. Your action could keep others from being overcharged.
Joann Marmolejo is president of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). “The Forward View” is a progressive look at local issues that runs every Thursday. For information, call 736-1897 or email at email@example.com.