Village residents have been grumbling about high gas prices in Morton for years. Just ask Mayor Norm Durflinger.

“When our prices are higher than places like Peoria and Pekin, I hear about it,” he said.

But Morton’s gas prices aren’t soaring above neighboring towns these days.

“We’re more competitive,” Durflinger said.

The price drops began about a month ago, about the same time the Morton Chamber of Commerce announced that Kroger was building a $1.3 million fuel center and creating four to six new jobs near its grocery store in the Morton Plaza off West Jackson Street.

Morton resident Christopher Farris has noticed the change.

“Ever since the announcement (of Kroger’s fuel center), Morton’s gas prices have been lower or at least competitive in the area,” he said. “Coincidence? I think Morton’s gas stations might be worried about the new kid in town.”

John Elliott, public affairs manager for Kroger’s Central Division, said the Morton fuel center will open this month unless construction is delayed by bad weather.

Kroger officials including Elliott don’t hide the fact that gas prices are kept low at company fuel centers to bring more traffic into grocery stores.

Shoppers receive fuel discounts for purchases of groceries, gift cards and prescriptions.

“The addition of a fuel center typically increases grocery sales by 2 1/2 to 4 percent at the nearby store,” Elliott said.

There are 76 fuel centers at the 136 Kroger grocery stores in the Central Division, with five more under construction including Morton. The others are in Indiana — Anderson, Avon, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.

The Central Division covers most of Illinois and Indiana, and parts of Missouri, Ohio and Michigan.

A survey Saturday of seven Morton gas stations revealed a price range of $3.03 to $3.19 for a gallon of regular fuel. Four stations were selling gas for $3.03 and two others for $3.04.

According to prices posted on the website, Morton’s gas prices were comparable to stations in East Peoria, Washington, Pekin and Peoria.