Archive for Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Gasoline prices squeeze area residents’ budgets

September 7, 2005

Consumers are feeling the pinch of paying $3 for a gallon of gasoline.

And that means more pressure on a local charity.

Dorothy Korb, one of the co-directors of the Good Shepherd Thrift Shop and Food Bank, said the agency has been swamped with requests for financial assistance.

The charity provides donations of clothing and food, as well as cash assistance.

"The last week we've had the most people we've ever had come and ask for help," Korb said. "I guess all the bills are coming due. If they have to pay that for gas, then they're not going to be able to pay for something else."

Korb said residents of Leavenworth and Jefferson counties are allowed to request cash assistance, for rent, utilities or occasionally prescriptions, every six months. And residents from the city of Leavenworth, which has other charitable institutions, are allowed to request cash assistance from the Tonganoxie thrift shop once a year.

Last month, Korb said, more people than usual requested cash assistance.

"We went way over what we had planned," Korb said of the money given out.

So as always, along with the usual donated items of food and clothing, the thrift shop also could use monetary donations.

"If anyone wants to donate money, it's welcome," Korb said. "And we can always use food."

Korb said with the high gasoline prices she doesn't look for things to get better soon.

"It's going to be worse than it is now," she said Friday. "It's getting critical."

Housing strong

Despite record-high gasoline prices, Tonganoxie's housing market remains strong, according to a local Realtor.

"I think things are selling very well still," Realtor Dan Lynch said Thursday as local convenience stores advertised unleaded gasoline at $3.05 a gallon.

"We're still buffered. I don't think we're far enough away from the metro area to have that big of an impact yet. Maybe it will with the $4 gas, but right now we're still very blessed out here."

Lynch said Tonganoxie's real estate prices are popular with buyers.

"We have some of the most affordable homes in the area," Lynch said. "They are very affordable compared to other areas. I think that's what's continuing to be a reason why real estate is selling in our area."

On new homes, he said, buyers are interested in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.

"And if they're looking for used homes, or starter homes, they would love to be under $100,000," Lynch said. "That's just hardly possible here in town."

Plans are under way in Tonganoxie, Lynch said, to begin construction of three-bedroom two-bath homes with a two-car garage that sell for $129,500.

With Tonganoxie's proximity to the commercial area around Kansas Speedway, the city likely will remain an attractive destination for homebuyers, Lynch said.

It's not just commuters who are feeling the squeeze of high gasoline prices.

Tonganoxie Postmaster Ron Hubbard said rural mail carriers, who buy their own gasoline each day before coming to work, are reimbursed a set amount per mile, depending on the number of miles they drive.

"That figure is adjusted several times a year, but it's not adjusted as often as the pump prices are increasing," Hubbard said.

Five of the post office's six rural mail carriers drive about five hours a day, and the routes may be up to 70 miles.

"Even if you haven't got a lot of mileage to cover, you've got a lot of stops per mile, your vehicle is still idling, you're sitting there with your engine running," Hubbard said. "None of them were happy to see it go to $3 and they won't be happy to see it go to $4 or more."

Recently, Hubbard followed a drive along a complete mail route.

By the end of the day he'd used a half-tank of gasoline, or seven or eight gallons, in his mid-sized car.

He noted that mail carriers usually drive larger vehicles and are weighted down with mail.

"None of them are driving really old or inefficient vehicles," Hubbard said. "They're all driving 2000 models or newer -- but we're feeling the pinch."

Hubbard said he's read that this year's rising pump prices will add an extra $300 million in fuel costs to the nation's postal service.

"Nationally, if the price of gas goes up one penny, that costs the post office $1 million," Hubbard said. "That's how many gallons we use in a day's time."

On the road

While people may groan when filling up their tanks, the Tonganoxie public school district is being particularly hard-hit by escalating gasoline prices.

Shari Curry, the district's bus superintendent, said district vehicles, which serve about 950 families, drive about 1,200 miles a day.

"That includes 15 regular route buses and our special ed buses and vans," Curry said.

Curry, who takes bids when shopping for gasoline, said her last purchase of 7,500 gallons was made in early August, right before gasoline prices began climbing.

Superintendent Richard Erickson said, though the district budgeted for fuel expenditures of $45,000 for the 2005-2006 school year, that probably will change.

"I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see it go well over $55,000 to $60,000," Erickson said. "So we'll see a good jump this year in our fuel costs."

State watch

It's not just consumers who have their eyes on roadside gasoline signs.

Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline met last week with representatives of gasoline wholesalers and retailers, telling them his office will aggressively investigate any allegations of price gouging following the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina.

"While most gas sellers allow market forces to establish the price of their product, those who do not and choose instead to artificially inflate the price contrary to state law will be dealt with aggressively and swiftly," Kline said.

"My office does not tolerate price gouging of any necessary commodity at any time, especially during time of national tragedy."

Consumers who believe they have been the victim of price gouging are encouraged to call the attorney general's consumer protection and anti-trust division, (800) 432-2310.

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