Consumers, city officials change habits as fuel costs increase |

Consumers, city officials change habits as fuel costs increase

Mike Lawrence

— Pay for gas or rent a local apartment?

North Routt County resident Clint Nickerson noted Wednesday that with gas prices approaching $4 a gallon — diesel is already there, or higher, at some Steamboat Springs stations — his monthly fuel costs could be equal to the price of renting a home in the city. Nickerson owns a logging business and said that before his Chevrolet Silverado's transmission went out, he filled the truck twice a week at a cost that's increased from about $60 last summer to about $100 now.

"That's $800 a month in gas. That's basically the cost of an apartment," Nickerson said, standing at a gas station pump on Steamboat's west side and filling a Toyota that he said is looking more and more attractive for its fuel efficiency.

He's correct about the apartment — a one-bedroom, one-bathroom rental in Old Town was listed at $775 a month in Wednesday's classifieds.

The impacts of increasing fuel costs could spread to Nickerson's customers and others, including shoppers in grocery aisles, energy consumers

and just about anyone who puts a nozzle into a tank — or buys a product or service from someone who does.

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"I'm going to have to be increasing my bids on jobs," Nickerson said.

Gas prices have been on a steady rise in recent months and are likely to continue an upward trend into the summer. The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded has increased $1, from $2.83 to $3.83, in the past year, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Colorado's statewide average for a gallon of regular unleaded has increased about 20 cents, to nearly $3.60, in just the past month.

"It's going to mean a lot of bike time this summer," Steamboat Springs construction worker Kent Hall said Wednesday.

In addition to possible changes to commuting habits, the price increases could be taxing for the city's budget. Steamboat Springs Finance Director Deb Hinsvark said she is preparing information to present to the Steamboat Springs City Council on May 17 about how to manage fuel consumption that not only costs more, but also increased in usage for city crews during Steamboat's big-snow winter.

"That is going to cause us a problem this year," Hinsvark said Wednesday about fuel funding. "We're going to have to make an adjustment to accommodate those additional costs."

Steamboat Springs Transit operations manager Jonathan Flint said the bill he received for a fuel delivery Dec. 31, 2010, priced diesel at $2.76 a gallon. He said the bill for a delivery April 8 was $3.56 a gallon.

Trends indicate "that growth would continue up toward the $4 range or even over the $4 range" this summer, Flint said.

The city receives gas-tax exemptions as a governmental entity. Its price might be less than what public customers see, but the increase is the same — and significant.

Flint said that after diesel prices of $2.25 in June and $2.29 in July, he and other city officials submitted a fuel budget projecting about $2.50 a gallon for 2011 during the budget process in fall. Flint noted that gas prices fluctuate every year — after fuel spiked in 2008, he said, the city budgeted high for 2009 and ended up under its fuel budget.

The city's 24 transit buses use a total of about 100,000 gallons of diesel per year, he said.

If fuel costs this year average about $3.50, a dollar more than city projections, that would mean an extra $100,000 from the city budget.

Hinsvark said such an expense would be "huge" and could mean additional cuts for the city's already tight finances.

"I don't believe that reserves are the solution," she said about paying gas costs.

City fleet foreman Joe Pokay said Steamboat has 150 to 160 vehicles in its fleet. Public Works Director Philo Shelton said those vehicles use about 50,000 gallons of fuel per year, bringing the city's annual total to about 150,000 gallons of fuel.

Shelton said Wednesday that he is working to prepare numbers for Hinsvark detailing potential extra fuel expenses.

Hall, who put gas into his Jeep near Nickerson on Wednesday, said he's already cutting costs — he decided not to fill his tank to the top.

"I just put $20 in," Hall said with a laugh. "I just put in what I need for a couple of days."

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