Gas prices take bite out of bank accounts

Services, businesses trying to adjust to high costs

Craig resident Lori Matuska hopes she can make it all the way home after work. She hopes there will be groceries in the refrigerator when she gets there soaring gas prices have made both uncertain.

"I drive to Steamboat Springs every day and it kills me," she said.

Matuska works for a law firm in Steamboat Springs and commutes the 45 miles five days each week. She hopes she will be evaluated soon so she can request a raise to help offset the more than $50 of gasoline she puts in her car each week.

Pump prices have reached a high of $1.68 per gallon of unleaded gas a price some say is bound to go higher as summer approaches.

Several Craig businesses are beginning to feel the sting of keeping equipment running.

"It's hurting us," Gordon Peters, general manager of Trapper Mine, said. "It costs us more to operate and there's nothing we can do."

Mine officials estimate gas costs have risen 100 percent in the past year a price they are not able to pass on to customers because most coal mined has already been sold at a contract price.

Fuel costs are normally about 2.5 percent of the mine's operations, but are now 5 percent.

"Fuel costs are a major part of mining because we haul so much coal by truck," Peters said.

There is nothing the mine can do but absorb the added cost, he said.

Other businesses have no way to recoup rising fuel costs.

"It's hard to make a profit after buying gas," Ledgerwood Glass owner Jo Ledgerwood said.

Ledgerwood makes about three trips to Denver each month to pick up glass that is too fragile to ship.

"That's where it hurts us," she said.

Like the mine, much of the glasswork done at Ledgerwood is done under contract, so the price cannot be increased to make up for the cost of fuel. Even if it could, they wouldn't do it, Ledgerwood said.

"You can't really raise the price. There's too much competition and on insurance billing, the insurance companies set the price," she said.

Craig and Moffat County road and bridge departments are feeling the pinch in different ways.

Randy Call, supervisor of Craig Road and Bridge Department, said he hasn't seen the effect of increased gas prices because they have been operating on "cheap fuel" fuel that was already in the tanks left over from days when the price wasn't as high.

That reserve is almost dry and Call is prepared to face higher prices as he fills his pumps.

The city used 61,392 gallons of gasoline last year at a cost of more than $30,000. On a fuel shipment received today, the price was .26 per gallon more on unleaded and diesel than the average price per gallon last year, Call said. If prices remain steady, the department will spend nearly $16,000 more in gasoline this year.

No projects will be cut because of the increase, Call said.

"It will affect us, but it's business as usual," he said. "We'll absorb it somewhere."

The county department is looking at its proposed 2000 projects to review where cuts will be made if necessary.

"This is going to affect our budget," Assistant Supervisor Billy Mack said. "It just depends on how high it's going to go."

He said it's too early to tell exactly what the impact will be, but it's possible some low priority projects will be put on hold until 2001. Routine maintenance projects won't be impacted.

Plows didn't run as often as expected because the winter was mild and both Mack and Call said that savings could offset higher fuel prices.

"It's going to break a lot of businesses that are transportation-orientated," Call said.

And he's right.

Jack Paulson, owner of Paulson's Trucking in Craig, said the company is ahead of many others in feeling the pinch.

"We're going to have to raise our rates pretty soon because of gas prices," he said.

The gas bill has to be paid, and the company isn't prepared to cut back on operations.

"When they call for a truck, we've got to go," his wife, Linda, said.

Paulson believes customers will expect transportation costs to increase as fuel prices increase.

"We haven't, yet, but we're going to see an increase in the cost of freight," Call said.

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