Gas Prices Cast Wide Net

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Evelyn Bumpers, manager of the Meridian Transit System, must operate with a fixed budget set by the City Council last September. The budget has not changed, but fuel costs have.

"Starting in October, we were paying 0.975 cents per gallon for fuel. As of this date we're paying 1.2584 cents per gallon. It's a significant increase based on the way our budget is set up," Bumpers said.

It is, in fact, an increase of 28 cents per gallon. While the bus company has an annual fuel contract, the price fluctuates depending on wholesale costs.

"For the fiscal year we budgeted $18,000 for fuel. As of this month we used $10,824.26 of that amount," said Bumpers. "So therefore, that leaves us just a little less than $7,000 to work with until the end of the fiscal year which is Set. 30."

Bumpers said the transit system has cut the number of buses operating and combined some routes to save money, but with the constant increases it's not going to be enough.

"At this particular time, we are looking to go back to the council to ask for more money because if we don't we won't be able to provide for the rest of the fiscal year because of fuel costs and the maintenance of the vehicles," said Bumpers.

The federal government pays part of the cost of fuel but there is a string attached.

"If I run out of money on that particular line item and I can't find other funds, then those dollars go back to the feds," Bumpers said. "I have to have a 50 percent match in order for the feds to reimburse me one dime."

As she sees it, there are only two solutions: more money from the city or a lowering of the cost of fuel. The still unanswered question is does either seem likely?

It's also prom season and Mother's Day is right around the corner, which means flowers galore, but with gas prices rising, places like Saxon's Flowers and Gifts are having to reconsider the cost before putting these petals to the metal.

"Whenever you have an increase of gas that goes into the vehicle, it increases your expense considerably," said store owner Peachie Saxon.

In fact, Saxon's has raised its delivery charge by a dollar, a small reality consumers are going to have to face.

"We maintained them at the same price for so long, years and years, but when it was so high for so long, we had to make some changes in it," said Saxon.

Florists aren't the only ones defraying the cost to customers. The rising gas prices equal a loss in profit that companies say they can't continue to ignore.

"Since last April we have seen an 18 cent increase in diesel fuel, which to us means about $2500 a month and about $32,000 a year," said Diane Davidson, president of Davidson Hauling.

And that's just the cost of diesel. Combine that with the cost of regular fuel, increasing insurance and surcharges by other companies because of fuel costs, and you begin to pay a pretty penny for freight.

Davidson said customers can't expect the same low prices.

"Everything we use, the produce at the store, the paper we write on, ends up on a truck," she said. "The film in your camera, I would be willing to bet, was on a truck at some point. So we are all paying higher prices in freight, not just when you go fill up at the tank."

So whether it be dirt and trucks of the beauty of flowers, the cost to you is going up, and like a perennial plant, these rising costs aren't dying out until there is a cold, hard freeze on gas prices.

For the past 14 years, Lacy Johnson has taught at Meridian Community College. Married, with two children, the Clarke County resident says the price of gas has somewhat limited her lifestyle.

"I could have picked a fancier model or a bigger SUV, but this is a four cylinder and the reason that I really chose it was for the gas mileage because I know that I drive a lot," Johnson said.

Compared to about $30 in the past, on average between herself, her husband and their 16 year old son, Johnson said as a whole her family spends about $60 a week at the gas pump. Johnson said it affects how she handles her children's after-school activities.

"In fact, I will often say to save the trip, let's just stay in town instead of going home. Let's just take one vehicle instead of you taking your vehicle. I'll drive you guys today," Johnson said.

While Johnson admits that gas prices could have some adverse affect on her family's possible vacation out west this summer, she says there is one group that is perhaps being affected more than others.

"If I had to pick a group, it would be my students because they're the ones that are still in school. They don't have jobs," said Johnson.