Italy fuel coupons get their annual makeover
By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 29, 2008
The coupons that U.S. and NATO servicemembers in Italy use to obtain fuel have undergone their annual makeover.
Starting Wednesday, they will have a whole new look as officials work to improve accountability and safeguard against fraud, misuse and counterfeiting.
New technology also lets officials see scanned copies of every redeemed coupon, which helps ensure patrons using the coupons are entitled to do so.
"Software (that) we have scans all the coupons looking for an anomaly, i.e., if a signature is missing, date, or [license] plate number," said Bart Di Muccio, administrator of the Tax-Free Office at Naval Support Activity Naples, which runs the coupon program.
"We now have the ability to pull out that coupon. … Instances where we have found certain blocks not filled out, we contact the member to find out why."
Patrons must fill in the date, registered vehicle license plate number, and their signature on each coupon redeemed. The system has only been in use for a few months, and no cases of fraud have been found, he said.
The price of fuel coupons dips slightly in October. A 100-liter book for diesel sells for $134, down from the $137 September price. That translates to about $5.07 a gallon. The cost for a 100-liter book for unleaded drops from $121 to $120, about $4.54 a gallon.
Each fiscal year, the Tax-Free Office changes the coupons to safeguard against fraud and counterfeiting. This year, the diesel coupons are colored bright pink and salmon, while the unleaded fuel coupons are two tones of green.
With no gas pumps for personal use on military bases in Italy, U.S. and NATO military members, civilians and families fuel up at Agip or Esso stations off base.
Through a decades-long agreement with Italian officials, they are exempt from paying the fuel tax, roughly 35 to 40 percent of the pump costs.
Coupons bought before Oct. 1 won’t be redeemable after Sept. 30. People have 90 days to return unused coupons for refunds, at the original purchase price, from outlets where they were bought. To ensure motorists have the new coupons by Wednesday, Navy Exchange and Army and Air Force Exchange Service outlets began selling them Friday, Di Muccio said.
The Tax-Free Office sets the monthly coupon prices based on the cost of fuel, the dollar-to-euro exchange rate, and any financial gains or losses from the previous month. It also assesses a 15-percent surcharge that customers pay to cover the costs of running the program.
Though the coupon prices fluctuate, the cost of businesses doesn’t, and Di Muccio said he is investigating whether the program should continue with a percentage-based surcharge, or a flat rate. Di Muccio said he hopes a decision will be made by next month.