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MAHONING VALLEY Gas prices at the pump are giving motorists, businesses a cold soaking



Published: Fri, February 14, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Skyrocketing gas prices have yet to match the record -- $1.85 a gallon set in June 2000.

By DON SHILLING

and CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN -- Jamie Velasquez had time to think as she filled her car with gas at nearly $2 a gallon, and they weren't happy thoughts.

The 25-year-old Youngstown woman was thinking about what trips could be cut to save gas. Mostly, she decided, it would be shopping trips.

"I'm only going to do what I have to do," she said.

Velasquez paid $1.87 a gallon for premium gas Tuesday at the Shell station at Midlothian Boulevard and South Avenue. Though regular was $1.67, she opted for premium because it helps her car run smoother.

Area residents and businesses are looking for ways to cope as gas prices have headed up in the past couple of weeks.

The cost of gas in the Youngstown-Warren area has jumped an average 20 cents a gallon over the past month, based on daily surveys by AAA Ohio Motorists Association.

Local prices

Locally, the average price for regular, unleaded gas is $1.58 a gallon, said Brian Neubacher, AAA spokesman. That's 2 cents below the $1.60 national average, but it's substantially higher than a year ago when gas was $1.11 a gallon in the Mahoning Valley.

And today's average in the Valley is still below the local record -- $1.85 a gallon set in June 2000.

At the Shell station, Maria Marsteller, 24, of Boardman gave one piece of advice as she pumped regular gas into her Chevrolet Blazer at $1.67 a gallon.

"Don't get an SUV," she said.

As gas prices head up, she wishes she still had her Pontiac Sunbird that she sold a year ago.

Mary Sutton, 60, of Youngstown said the recent increases are hard on her and her husband because they are living off his pension.

She's paying $30 a week on gas, mostly to go to church and take her mother to the doctor, and is worried about prices' going higher if there is a war with Iraq.

Tony Rice, 34, of Youngstown called the prices ridiculous but added that he doesn't worry about it.

"There's nothing you can do about it. ... It will go back down," he said.

Climbing gas prices are also putting a strain on businesses, especially those operating fleets of vehicles.

Rob Evans, finance manager for the Rural Metro Ambulance operation in Mahoning, Columbiana and Mercer counties, said its fuel costs have gone up 22 percent from what they were before Christmas.

Weight matters

Rural Metro has 34 ambulances in its fleet locally, each averaging about 1,000 miles travel per week, and the ambulances generally get only six to eight miles per gallon because of the weight they carry.

"We swallow the extra costs and try to cut back elsewhere," Evans said. "What choice do we have? Our business depends upon our vehicles' moving."

Gold Cross Limousine manager Grant Williams said gasoline prices are putting a strain on the Struthers-based company, which operates 25 limousine vans and sedans in a five-county area and leases vehicles to funeral homes.

"We set our prices at the beginning of the year, and we don't want to change them," he said. "When the price of gas goes up, we just have to eat the increase."

Neubacher, based in the AAA office in Independence, said the threat of war with Iraq and the effect it could have on the domestic fuel supply is partially to blame for the escalating gas prices. In addition, heat-related fuel uses are up because of the unusually cold winter.

The Valley's per-gallon average is in line with other Ohio cities, Neubacher said: Akron's average is $1.59; Canton and Toledo are at $1.60; Columbus and Cincinnati are $1.61.

vinarsky@vindy.com

shilling@vindy.com




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