Price pinch hurts all over

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Steamboat Springs rancher Jim Stanko cleans up a pasture on his ranch just off Routt County Road 33 west of Steamboat. Stanko and other area ranchers will have to deal with the rising cost of fuel and business this summer.

High gas and diesel prices have hit motorists at the pump, but the rising cost of fuel also is being felt elsewhere.

Routt County Road and Bridge Manager Paul Draper said fuel costs for his department have doubled in the past five to 10 years. But the recent spike, which has seen the cost of regular unleaded fuel in Steamboat Springs increase to as much as $3.40 a gallon, may force him to ask Routt County commissioners for supplemental funds.

"With fuel costs going up, it means it's simply going to cost us more money," said Draper, who said there are no plans for cutbacks in services.

"We got lucky that we contracted out our asphalt bids in March when fuel costs were a little bit cheaper. The latest round of bids didn't reflect a rise in fuel, but the day-to-day stuff is going to cost us."

He noted the county spent about $177,000 last year for diesel fuel, along with an additional $53,000 for unleaded gas.

"We are going to be spending easily $200,000 this year in diesel, which comes out to be about $3,800 a week," he said. "I'm not so much worried about gas because (diesel) is what is killing us."

On Jim and Jo Stanko's ranch just west of Steamboat Springs on Twentymile Road, meadows must be dragged and fence posts are in need of repair after the spring snowmelt.

Jo Stanko said the 100-year-old ranch used to run on the stomachs of horses, but today she is at the mercy of diesel.

"What it does is it cuts down on the amount of money we have to do other things with - there are things with diesel and gas we can't cut," said Stanko, who with her husband harvested more than 250 tons of hay last year on about 175 acres of land.

"If you have to buy new fencing, you probably can't afford it. If you are going to buy a new piece of equipment or any other improvements, you are going to be using that money for gas."

Jim Stanko said he burns as much as 30 gallons of diesel a day during the three-month hay-cutting season.

"I fill a 250-gallon tank twice per season to run the three tractors," said Stanko, who uses the hay to feed 80 head of cattle. "You just got to spend what you got to spend, and that's the problem we have because we can't pass that cost down to anybody."

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he's concerned fuel costs may put companies who contract with the county out of business.

"The contractors are going to have to make up the difference in the amount they bid and the amount they are going to have to now pay," he said. "It's important to have our contractors in business because they provide services to the community that the county can't do."

Whether it's a surcharge on garbage collection or increased taxes to supplement the Road and Bridge Department, Monger said consumers would pay the burden of rising fuel costs.

"Everybody who can will pass it down to the consumers," he said. "They'll be paying for this stuff all the way down the line."

Bobby O'Toole, director of operations at Alpine Taxi, said the company has taken measures to offset fuel costs by conserving fuel.

"Because we are a taxi service, it has obviously affected our business, but we have yet to pass on the cost to the customers," said O'Toole, who noted the company has up to 60 vehicles on the road daily, and each of the drivers refuels at least once a day. "We've taken the hit and absorbed the costs in the hope more people use our shuttle services."

He said the company has replaced trucks with more fuel-efficient mini-vans, and a hybrid Ford Escape recently was purchased, which could get 35 miles per gallon.

"It's made us look at how we can be more environmentally responsible as a company," O'Toole added. "There's no end in sight yet, and we are looking to improve our efficiency."

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