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Gas prices costing consumers

They're not colorful or fancy, but these days they are likely to be the most widely read advertisements around: Those billboards outside gasoline stations displaying the cost of fuel.

With gasoline still hovering just above the $2-a-gallon mark, people who pay attention to their pocket books are also paying attention to the cost of gasoline since the former is affected by the latter.

For some consumers, paying more for gasoline means having less money for other basic necessities, not to mention luxuries such as vacations and entertainment. For some businesses, higher gas prices mean less black ink on the bottom line.

The high and low of it

"Record breaking," that's the way Bevi Norris described the more than $2-per-gallon price at the pump these days. Norris, director of public affairs and public relations for

American Automobile Association's East Central division, which serves southern Ohio, has a point.

In July 2004, the average price of a gallon of gasoline locally was $1.85. In early spring, the average price at the pump was $2.25. The price at the pump Saturday in Ironton was $2.06.

Norris said there are several factors contributing to the high gas prices: Record breaking (crude) oil prices, unrest in the Middle East and greater demand on the oil supply.

Feeling the pain

Sarah Adkins, who works at the Rich Oil station on Third Street in Ironton, and Christy Baldridge, who works at Jim's Mart in Coal Grove, say they hear the complaints about gas prices all day long as customers pull up to the pump, and then come inside to pay and air their frustration.

"Some people don't say too much, but people who travel a lot, it bothers them," Baldridge said. "It has affected people getting gas."

"It's driving me crazy," Adkins said. "Just because I work here doesn't mean I get a discount. I have to pay the same as everybody else. … Everyone takes it out on us but there is nothing we can do."

As they field those complaints, they also have to pay the price at the pump the same as everyone else. While Baldridge said the rise in gas prices has not affected her much, Adkins was emphatic.

"I only have a little Cavalier and it used to cost me about $16 to fill it up and now it takes $22 or $23. Making $7 barely lets you live."

And these days, paying is what everyone is doing more. Krystina Koster of Ironton works part-time at the J.C. Penney Hair Salon at the Ashland Town Center.

Trying to keep bills paid on a part-time job is difficult enough, but the price of gas has made it that much more difficult. It takes $20 to fill up her 2003 Dodge Neon.

"But I don't fill it up, I can't afford to. I need lunch money," she said.

The bills will be paid but plans to vacation in Pensacola, Fla. and visit with her boyfriend, who is studying there now, will likely be scrapped. "I have to keep gas in the car so I can't afford the plane ticket, Koster said.

Koster went to see her boyfriend graduate from U.S.

Navy basic training in Chicago, Ill., late last month. The fuel bill for the trip was staggering: She estimated it cost $200 in gasoline for the round trip and gas for driving while there.

Mike Carey, owner of Carey Tire Co., in Ironton, said this time of year, he is usually busy with people coming in to get tuneups and other car maintenance before taking a vacation. This spring, vacationers are not keeping him as busy as they usually do.

"They're just not doing it like they did a year ago," Carey said. "People are not vacationing like they used to, not taking trips like they used to. Gas prices are definitely affecting people's driving."

Two men who stopped by the Rich Oil station Saturday to get drinks had their own opinions about gas prices.

"We're not driving, we're walking," one said when asked if they purchased gasoline. "We can't afford the gas."

Hidden pains

The price of gas may be affecting consumers in ways many had not thought of. Local businesses are paying for more gasoline as well.

Businesses that offer or specialize in delivery are particularly feeling the pinch and are left in a quandary.

If they raise their prices to cover the rising cost of fuel for their vehicles, they risk alienating customers; if they don't, they may not make ends meet. Some have opted to pass the cost on to consumers in hopes they understand that everybody, business and consumer alike, is in the same boat.

Kip Jenkins, branch manager of Prestige Delivery on South Fourth Street in Ironton, said the hike in fuel prices has hurt their business. Since the delivery service uses contract drivers, the turnover rate is higher now.

"We've had drivers quit over having to purchase so much gasoline," she said.

To keep good drivers, the company has had to pay them more for their service, and have passed the cost along to customers in the form of a fuel surcharge enacted earlier this year. Some customers have voiced complaints, others said they understand.

Even those who only offer delivery as courtesy are being hurt by high gas prices.

"It's crazy," Charlie White, manager of Giovanni's Pizza in South Point, said. "It's bad. We're just not making the money we should be."

The restaurant charges $1.10 for deliveries close to the store, $1.45 for customers further away. But he said he may have to boost those rates just to make the deliveries worthwhile.

"You just can't take a $4 or $5 product four or five miles down the road for that price, plus consider the wear and tear on the vehicle, the gas. It's just hard to make up for it," he said. "… Some people ask us how come we charge to deliver but they don't understand, it's hard to keep cars and fuel consumption and labor (costs) for someone to deliver the food. I just don't see why it (gas) should cost so much."

Government entities also feel the pain at the pump.

"It doesn't help us," Lawrence County Engineer David Lynd said of high gas prices. Many of the pieces of equipment his road department use run on diesel, which is even higher than regular gasoline.

Lynd said in addition to paying higher prices for fuel to operate equipment, his office is affected by gas cost and consumption in another way.

The state charges a tax for each gallon of gas purchased. This gas tax is collected by the state and distributed to county engineer's offices for their operation.

When prices go up, people tend to conserve gas and therefore buy less of it. That means his office gets less money from the gas tax for operation.

Taking action

There are some things motorists can do to make sure they are getting the best gas mileage possible. Carey said some people are coming into his business asking for ways to help economize on fuel. And there are things motorists can do to make the most of their gas money.

"You definitely want to do a tune up,"

he said. "And you want to make sure you have a good air filter and a good fuel filter."

Air filters can simply be removed and visually inspected for dirt; fuel filters may require a visit to the mechanic to determine whether or not it should be replaced.

Also, Carey said motorists should make sure they have proper air pressure in their tires. Under inflated tires can waste gasoline. Information on proper air pressure can be found either on the tire or in the car owner's manual.

Norris encouraged motorists to conserve gasoline whenever possible by by combining trips.

Some other AAA tips:

4Look for low fuel prices, but don't waste gas driving to a distant location to save a few cents.

4Start your car properly by not racing a cold engine to warm it up or allowing it to idle for an extended time.

4Maintain a steady speed, as quick starts and sudden stops waste fuel, are harder on vehicle components and increase the odds of a traffic crash.

4Use the air conditioner conservatively, using your vehicle's "economy" or "recirculation" setting, which reduces the amount of hot outside air that must be chilled.