Gas price increases squeezing engineer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

Think pain in the pump is affecting your wallet? Try being David Lynd.

Lawrence County’s Engineer said higher fuel prices are hurting his agency in more ways than one.

For starters, Lynd is shelling out more money than in previous years just to keep his equipment running.

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“Most of our equipment is diesel,” he said. “Those prices seem worse than gasoline process. Diesel used to be a little cheaper but not anymore.”

Last year the engineer’s office purchased 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 13,500 gallons of gasoline which, he said, are average purchase amounts. Last year the price tags for those two purchases together amounted to roughly $123,000. But this year, the office is in line to spend $125,000-$130,000 for the same amount of fuel.

“That’s significant,” Lynd said.

But the big jump came in asphalt prices. This year the price of blacktop is $40 a ton. Last year it was $31.40 a ton— a nearly 30 percent increase.

Lynd said he can’t save any money by bidding out projects. Contractors are asking more money for their work as well.

“When we bid it out, some of the work last year was $78 a cubic yard, in place and this year it’s $118-$120 a cubic yard, in place,” he said.

Construction prices in general have gone up 14 percent or more in the last couple of years. And that includes the costs for steel, ready mix concrete and other necessities.

Because of higher asphalt prices, the engineer’s office will likely scale back its paving plans. Lynd said he likes to work on a 12-year cycle, but in light of higher prices he will likely have to go to a 15 or even 16-year road resurfacing plan.

The county has 275 miles of asphalt roads and 100 miles of chip and seal roads. Lynd said he will be able to complete projects on this year’s list “but it’s going to take everything we’ve got.

Next year is when we’re going to have to cut back in resurfacing since asphalt prices didn’t go up until this year,” he said.

The county’s budget for roads and bridges is approximately $4.2 million, which includes maintenance such as patching potholes, mowing and snow removal, as well as construction.

Lynd’s bottom line is actually affected two ways: Not only are prices higher, but the amount of money he has in his budget drops when gas prices increase. Here’s why: county engineer’s offices are funded through the state’s gasoline tax and through license plate sales. The state’s 28-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax is divided equally among its 88 counties.

But if people are buying less gasoline, there is less gas tax monies to divide.

Lynd is thankful that the state raised its gas tax from 22 cents to 28 cents four years ago.

“If we had not had that increase, we’d be dead by now,” he said. “The last increase before that was in 1992.”

Larger urban counties such as Franklin and Cuyahoga counties typically have more automobiles on the road so they often can offset the difference with license plate sales.

Smaller rural counties do not usually have this luxury.

“People need to realize this ( higher fuel prices) affects their government exactly the way it affects them,” Lynd said. “There is no amount of effort that can make up for this. If asphalt is $40 a ton there is nothing we can do to make it cost less.”