Problems at the pump easing

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Early Friday morning, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. was pounding the pavement, practicing what he preached, by making the mile trip to work on foot.

“I am just encouraging citizens to walk for our health and our wealth,” Perkins said. “This is actually going to help with the gas situation and our health as well.”

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Perkins’ method is just one of the ways Selma is dealing with the increase in gas prices that are inching higher and higher almost daily.

Gene Hisel, a local gas station owner, said the situation is better than expected. Hopefully, Hisel said, pipeline repairs might ease the problem soon.

“The price has not slowed them (buyers) down at all,” he said reporting $2.89 on regular.

Hisel said the supply problem should be lessening soon, but nothing’s certain.

“They got that one pipeline repaired in Mobile so that’s easing,” he said.

Kevin Edwards, of the Junction Amoco, said he almost ran out of gas.

“We came close on regular,” he said. “We got some gas in (Friday), normally when (suppliers) come they just top us off, but they’re giving us 25 percent less.”

Edwards said it was possible his station would run out soon.

Edwards said it was possible his station would run out soon if people continue to panic.

“If we keep selling it like we have the last few days we’ll run out of regular Saturday,” he said.

Both Hisel and city officials said that a big part

of the problem is panic.

“I think the most important thing to do is slow down the panic,” Hisel said.

Perkins agreed.

“I think any gas shortage we’re experiencing is being created by people making a run on the gas,” he said.

That doesn’t mean increasing prices aren’t a concern.

City and County agencies say that the gas prices are a problem, but right now, no drastic action is required.

Dallas County road projects will continue uninterrupted, County Commission Chairman Judge Johnny Jones said.

“There are just some things we’ve absolutely got to do,” he said.

Jones said the gas prices mean that the county has to do a little more planning, but the county’s current activities won’t be slowed.

“The county engineer is trying to work through that (the increase in gas prices),” he said, “but not to the point where we’re slacking up any.”

The county, like other local government agencies, takes regular bids for fuel contracts.

Dallas County collects bids monthly, and Jones said the county usually gets two to three bids each time.

“Yesterday we (got) one bid and it was contigent upon whether we could get the gas,” he said. “The companies that usually bid just weren’t sure what they could do (about getting gas). That’s the biggest problem. The uncertainty of whether they’ll be able to get (fuel).”

Jones said that even if the contractor can’t supply fuel for the county, the Commission still has time to explore other options because of a fuel reserve.

“We’ve got enough to run well into next week,” he said.

Perkins said the city is using a similar strategy to wait out the potential crisis.

“We’re trying to conserve,” he said, “but we’re going to continue to deliver services as long as we’ve got gas.”

The most important consideration is making sure the Public Works and Public Safety Department has fuel to continue services.

“We’re working with our gas supplier to make sure,” he said.

Feds combat problem too

The federal government is looking at ways to deal with the problem as well, with a little international aid.

Twenty-six countries in an international energy consortium will release more than 60 million barrels of crude oil and gasoline to relieve the energy crunch caused by Hurricane Katrina in the United States, according to the Associated Press.

As part of that effort, the Bush administration will release 30 million barrels of crude oil from U.S. reserves.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman called this an initial move, part of what he called an “aggressive” federal response to the hurricane disaster. The fuel being released by the Paris-based International Energy Agency will be in the form of both crude oil and gasoline and will be released over the coming month.

Some states are also trying to lower prices as well, according to the AP.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue approved a moratorium on state taxes on gas and gas sales. He called for a special session from the state legislature to ratify his decision on the day after Labor Day.

“We can afford and we should give Georgians this emergency tax relief,” he said at a news conference announcing the decision. He signed an executive order placing the moratorium in effect at midnight Saturday. Several other states have also declared tax moratoriums on gas.

In Alabama, no move has been made yet, locally or on the state level, to halt tax collections on gas.

In Selma, the total tax on gas is 24 cents, including city, county and state, Hisel said. Hisel suggested that maybe rationing could calm consumers down to alleviate supply pressures.

“The bottom line if it continues to go like this I think a little rationing would get it under control, maybe a 10-15 gallon cap,” he said.

Schools deal with prices

According to local school officials, the gas problem isn’t much of a concern for them because of their standing contracts on fuel. However, they did say if the problem continued, there may be a need to take more drastic action.

City Schools Superintendent Dr. James Carter said his system doesn’t have a large bus fleet, which minimizes the impact of an increase in gas prices.

“We don’t have a lot of territory to cover,” he said. “Our system is geared toward picking up special needs students.”

Carter said the only concern was the impact the prices may have on away games for the system’s football teams.

“We hope we can survive with the athletic program traveling in and out of the city,” he said. “Luckily for us, (most of) our games are within a 50 mile radius.”

County Schools Superintendent Dr. Fannie Major-McKenzie said her system is currently following the state’s lead on the problem.

“We have a tentative plan outlined,” Major-McKenzie said. “We’re looking at deadhead miles and if necessary we will look at the field trips and athletic trips.”

Deadhead miles are those deemed unnecessary by the system.

Major-McKenzie said the state superintendent has issued recommendations on how to deal with the problem.

She said she’s working on a local level as well.

“I’ve talked with our fuel contractor to ensure that we will be able to get the necessary gasoline,” she said. “This situation is so tentative.”

Major-McKenzie said that her employees are dealing with the situation as well.

Many of her staff members were already carpooling to work before the problems at the pump began.

Consumers coping

Currently, the city’s residents are coping with the problem in various ways.

Some residents are hoarding gas and storing it in plastic tanks.

“People are actually stockpiling gas,” Perkins said. “That’s dangerous.”

Perkins has called for more people to walk, bike or carpool to work.

“Hopefully by Tuesday we’ll be in a full-blown walking campaign,” he said. “If you can walk, walk.”

Area car dealers say that that residents haven’t put a run on fuel efficiency as a result of the increase.

Barry Parker, one of the owners of Moore-Stewart Ford, said that there’s been no change in the way people buy.

“I don’t see an affect on it at this point,” he said. “Everybody seems to be looking for what they want.”

Gary Mayton, owner of Gary Mayton motors said that more people are asking about mileage, but otherwise they haven’t changed buying habits.

“I haven’t seen a run on little bitty cars,” he said. “This is Selma, Ala. We’re not going to give up our pickup trucks. We’re not going to give up our SUVs.”

The Assocaited Press contributed to this report.