Gas prices are on the rise and the effects are being seen throughout the county.
Transportation plays a major role in all aspects of life including those that help Sharp County function efficiently. With gas prices rising regularly and the future of the increases unknown, many people are wondering what will have to change for Sharp County to stay financially stable.
Ann Hines, director of the Organization of Arkansas Oil Marketers, explained how oil prices around the country affect the gas prices in local communities.
Crude oil, oil before it is refined and transported to gas stations to be pumped into gas tanks, is being sold at $122 a barrel. In correlation with this price, the price per gallon is $2.78. Additional costs are incurred when federal taxes (18.4 cents a gallon), state taxes (21.5 cents a gallon) and environmental taxes implemented in the last year (3/10 of a cent per gallon) are tacked on to that crude oil price, according to Hines.
"You still haven't refined it, you still haven't sent it down the pipeline, you still haven't transported it and you surely haven't paid the dealers," Hines explained. "I never thought we would see $4 a gallon, and I keep hoping that we won't. Since it's never happened before, I'm not sure what the effects will be."
These prices are being reflected from local gas station signs and in the pocketbooks of citizens, businesses and many necessary state, federal and county services.
Along with additional and costly road repairs already incurred from the recent floods, Sharp County's road department carries the burden of the rising gas prices.
Cave City School District has also began making budget adjustments and is planning on more in the near future, while the Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service has gained a financial problem that they're hoping won't hinder their ability to help the community they are meant to serve.
Cave City School District has already exceeded their fuel budget by $15,000 for the 2007-2008 school year with two weeks left of school and summer school soon to follow.
Cave City School District Superintendent Steve Green said that he never imagined gas prices would reach their current levels.
"We always try to add a little bit more than the year before, but we didn't anticipate this," Green said. "We thought we budgeted comfortably, but it's gone way beyond the cushion point to the point that we're in the red."
This school year's fuel budget was set at $105,000 based on last year's expenditures of $77,000. Despite attempts to estimate rising gas prices and adjust the budget accordingly, the Cave City School District has already spent almost $125,000 due to daily fuel increases.
"We have 20 school buses and routes, and right now we're spending $25,000 a month," Green explained.
Now that unexpected fuel costs have dwindled current funding, Green is afraid that major changes to important school activities may have to be made next year.
"For a school system, you only have so much revenue. As of now we'll have to squeeze something out," Green said.
Trips like the ones taken yearly to the IMAX Theater and the Discovery Museum help to give kids a good attitude about school and something to look forward to, according to Green, but are at risk of being cut due to fuel prices. There will also be changes to summer school routes that involve specific "pick-up points" allowing for shorter bus routes.
As prices continue to rise, Cave City's budget continues to dwindle, and Green said he can only hope the problem will be addressed soon.
"I'm hoping that Arkansas legislation will address the transportation issues to ease the pain of diesel fuel costs," Green said.
To inhibit rising gas prices the Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service has bought two new vehicles but their budget barely reflects the effort.
Spring River Ambulance Service purchased a sixth vehicle on Jan. 1, 2008, and then a seventh as of April 28. According to Grace Richeson, the general manager of the ambulance service, this was an effort to decrease fuel expenditures.
"What we've done is added two more trucks to decrease the miles driven and our fuel consumption," Richeson explained. "We've actually decreased our miles driven by 4,000 miles, but our fuel increase has continued to go up."
Richeson said that in early 2007 they were averaging $2.54 per gallon compared with the average to this point in 2008 of $3.60. Due to this $1.06 increase since last year, the fuel prices have exceeded the previous year's expenditures by $5,300.
"We did change our budget from last year, but we didn't budget as much as it's increased and going to increase. We've already spent 62.9 percent of our fuel and maintenance budget on just fuel," Richeson said.
Richeson also explained that Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service is a non-profit organization that is considered a 501C4 company.
"Which means our only source of income is from the ambulance transport reimbursements which has not fluctuated with the fuel costs," Richeson said. "We're here to serve our communities, but the fuel increase is going to make a difference. It's definitely going to have to be monitored and changes made in the future."
With only a little over one third of the budgeted calendar year complete, the Sharp County Road Department has used over 54 percent of its fuel and oil budget and is looking at possible summer lay-offs due to rising fuel prices. Sharp County Judge Larry Brown said that out of the $214,000 allocated for 2008, the county has so far spent $116,427.12.
"Let me just put it this way, we bought fuel on April 24 and it cost us $27,666. The same load in March cost us $18,000," Brown said. "There's no way we can operate the way we have before with the current fuel prices."
Situations like these are being seen all over the country, and counties have begun to adjust their budgets accordingly. Brown explained that Sharp County doesn't have the funds to budget in the rising fuel costs, and if it weren't for the FEMA disaster grants the county will soon be receiving, possible financial shortfalls with the current road repairs would be inevitable.
"We're currently in the process of waiting for FEMA disaster grants, and it could take about three months to get the funds ... In a way this was a disaster, but with the funds we might be able to make it through the year," Brown said.
Once the road repairs are complete and the costs totaled, FEMA will reimburse the county 75 percent of the costs.
Until FEMA funds are approved, the county must find a way to financially support the road repair effort. Brown said one option he will soon be seeking approval for from the Quorum Court will be a loan from White River Planning and Development.
"White River Planning and Development has agreed to let us borrow $350,000 if we need it," Brown explained. "I'm going to the Quorum Court to pass a resolution to allow us to borrow the money if necessary."
While the road department and the county wait for totals to be tallied and funds to be gained, gas prices continue to rise.
"With all of the damage and fuel prices it will be hard to keep up," Brown said.