The Woodward News

August 24, 2005

Rising fuel costs damaging budgets.

Rising prices at the gas pump are doing a lot more than just causing problems for motorists.

Area law enforcement, public schools of large and small student population, and county-city crews are all suffering from the added weight of gasoline prices in the range of $2.45 a gallon or higher.

“Prices are going to have a negative affect on the school travel this year . . . we are going to curtail travel not dealing with school activities already on the calendar and the many trips rewarding students for good behavior and grades will also have to be seriously considered,” said Mack Morse, superintendent of Shattuck Public Schools.

The added cost of fuel prices has not really been a large concern for many until as of late when gas prices increased 54 percent in the month of August alone. Gasoline prices are expected to remain well above $2 per gallon through 2006 according to the United States Department of Energy’s Short-term Energy Outlook.

“Gas prices have taken a big bite out of us this year, we are expecting to spend $60,000 to $70,000 on fuel for this year’s school term,” said Terry Groce, Woodward Public Schools transportation director.

“We really can’t do anything about bus routes but as far as trips for pleasure such as trips to the zoo or the Omniplex for our grade school students, these trips may have to be slowed down for the year until prices decrease or our budget can be worked on,” Groce said.

One thing helping all schools not only in the area but across the state is the relief on gas taxes that public schools are exempt from. However, even without having to pay taxes on gasoline most schools if they were to buy fuel today would still be paying $2.11 per gallon compared to $1.44 at this time last year.

Law enforcement is also feeling the squeeze if the increase in fuel prices.

“We have slowed down on unnecessary trips and have also tried to slow down on trips to find those with misdemeanor warrants unless they are in a 50-mile radius. We cannot just strike off across the state to apprehend someone who, when brought back, will just bond back out. Our budget cannot allow this because of the gas prices we are having to pay,” said Marty Drew, Harper County Sheriff.

Law enforcement also gets a tax break when purchasing gas but with fixed budgets already in place the increase in prices has made it difficult to go and do what is often needed.

City officials have also tried to make the best of the current situation but many are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

L.R. Holley, City Manager of Shattuck said, “if the gas prices keep up going up the way they have been we will have no choice but to raise utilities as well to keep up with costs. Summer is often better than winter for our budget because more water is used during the summer which keeps our budget comfortable but as winter months come along we will begin to see serious crunches in the budget because of fuel prices.”

Holley added, “I believe the city council are already looking into the problem and will have to continue to look for alternatives and ideas to help with this ever growing problem.”

As for the county level, many counties are not feeling the crunch yet but can see trouble in the very near future.

Woodward County Commissioner Ralph Triplett said, “The prices are not hurting us yet this summer but I can see the gas prices causing problems for our chipping and sealing projects in the near future. We usually get most of our supplies for these projects from Gotebo, Okla. and if prices continue to increase we will have to take a serious look at our costs for shipping the supplies up here.”