Steep gas prices hit hard

Published 12:02 am Thursday, April 28, 2011

Local gas prices are within 30 cents of topping the 2008 state high of $4.09.

High gas prices are a serious problem for all Americans, but there’s little the Federal Reserve can do about them, Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday.

Oil prices are determined on global markets based on global supply and demand, and can’t be controlled by the Fed, he said.

Historical data shows in 2008, regular unleaded topped at $4.09 a gallon in Alabama; in 2009, it peaked at $2.52; in 2010 at $2.78.

Locally, prices range from $3.69 in Andalusia and River Falls to $3.75 in Florala and Opp – all figures well below the national average of $3.88 a gallon for unleaded.

Diesel fuel prices range from $3.98 to $4.05 in Andalusia.

Officials say that gas prices aren’t likely to keep rising at the pace they have been, and that’s welcome news heading into the end of the school year.

Shauna Robertson, chief financial officer for the Covington County School System, said the rising cost of diesel fuel has made a tremendous impact on their budget.

“Diesel prices for the county schools have increased about .91 cents or 40 percent since April of last year,” Robertson said. “A majority of this increase has just occurred over the last couple of months, and we are feeling the pinch.

“Even before proration was declared, the transportation budget fell short of being fully funded,” she said. “The fuel increase has just added more salt to the wound.”

She said that over the past several months, school officials have been monitoring bus routes and extracurricular bus use to defer any excess cost.

“Sadly, the additional expense not only takes funds away from our instructional programs, but has an impact on many of our extracurricular programs as well,” she said of the fuel situation. “Fuel expense plays a significant role in determining sporting events, field trips and such.”

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said when city officials began the budgeting process, gas was $2.20 a gallon.

“And if you think about the fact that we consume about 2,000 gallons a month, you can see how gas is taking a toll on our budget,” he said.

He said the police and street departments were challenged to cut their fuel consumption.

“That means that limbs don’t get picked up three times a week, but that’s OK,” he said. “We have to save money where we can.”

At Andalusia’s Taylor Linen, sales and marketing manager Kyle Dalton said the company’s 14 trucks travel an average of 6,000 miles per week.

“That’s going from Panama City, Fla., to Mobile to Birmingham,” Dalton said. “That’s a lot of miles, and a lot of gas. Over the last year, I’d say we’ve seen a 15 to 18 percent increase in fuel costs. That’s huge, and when every penny counts, we have to watch it.”