The August spike in gas prices is being felt across Cabarrus County, N.C., as people plan Labor Day vacations, businesses and government agencies fret over costs, and struggling families are forced to stretch budgets just a bit further.
Premium Power Systems sells emergency power systems throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Rising gas prices have forced the company to adjust its service strategy.
"In the 'good old days' we would go from one side of Charlotte to another in the same day to attend to our clients, said Lori Clay, a company executive. "Now, we group our clients into areas and service as many in one area in one day as we can.
Like most businesses, Premium Power Systems is reluctant to pass on higher costs.
"Many times, my customers are suffering budget crunches themselves and simply cannot handle an increase," Clay said. "So what happens to us? We eat the fuel."
Gas prices have risen about 21 cents a gallon this month, and analysts warn there's little relief in sight.
The price of gas in North Carolina has jumped 21 cents high since Aug. 1. The price for a gallon of regular gasoline on Aug. 1 was $3.42 and is now at $3.64. The national average is $3.71 a gallon. The price of a barrel of crude oil has increased from $78 in June to $93 on Thursday.
Don't look for any relief soon, analysts warned.
"The outlook for the next few weeks is grim," said David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "In prior years this was a time when prices started downward, but speculation on oil futures is driving up every day. The outlook for a fall price decline is bleak at this time."
John Cox, president and CEO for the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he can already see how that will affect people here.
"Transportation costs are absorbed by small business until they can't manage them any longer without passing some of the costs along," Cox said.
Old Stone Vino Bistro and Wine Bar in Kannapolis is another business coping with higher fuel prices, which still offers free delivery.
"Most businesses that offer delivery, such as pizza, have started to add a delivery charge to assist in offsetting employee cost and gas prices," said owner Tina Hanson.
But even at current prices the restaurant averages about $10 to $20 a day in gas, depending on where they have to take the deliveries.
"This, of course, cuts into our profit margin and requires us to be very diligent in food costs. All of our employees do deliveries, which at times can be stressful on them, considering the average restaurant employee's hourly wage," Hanson said.
Businesses aren't the only organizations impacted by higher gas prices.
Cabarrus County officials budgeted $1.1 million for the county's total fuel costs for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, up 28 percent from the previous year. They also budgeted $125,000 in contingency funds to prepare for any unexpected increases.
In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Cabarrus County officials had to use about $64,000 worth of contingency funding to help with the sheriff's office, parks department and other agencies due to a shortfall because of higher fuel costs. Pamela Dubois, deputy county manager/finance director, said they took that in account for this fiscal year.
"The cost increase should not affect our services since we prepared in the budget for the increased cost," she said. "We have also implemented a policy related to limiting the idling of vehicles and the purchase of fuel-efficient hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles for the sheriff's department and general services."
Despite the increased costs, many Americans will still take to the highway for the Labor Day holiday Sept. 3.
"A national study performed last year showed consumers had no plans to change their travel patterns due to gas price increases, but it did, however, affect their behavior," said Donna Carpenter, president and CEO of Cabarrus County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "For example, they may have shorted the length of their trip or traveled closer to home to make up for the increase in fuel costs."
Jonathan Coleman with Charlotte Motor Speedway said it takes more than a 20-cent rise in fuel prices to keep NASCAR fans at home.
"In the grand scheme of things, we've found that a few extra dollars spent on gas hasn't deterred too many race fans from attending our races, Coleman said.
Lynn Swisshelm, director of development at Cooperative Christian Ministry, sees the problem hitting a little too close to home.
"Higher gas prices impacts our operations," Swisshelm said. "Our main food pantry makes several trips a month to Second Harvest for food. Once there the food is distributed across the county to various ... satellite food pantries. Each day we transport homeless families with children to local host churches who provide lodging and food."
Plus, Swisshelm sees the impact on the people they help.
"Gas prices do affect us and those we serve, those struggling to juggle keeping their homes, keeping fed, keeping their utilities on and keeping their jobs," Swisshelm said. "Gas and a working car are important. We have seen families see a period of unemployment and even the loss of a job due to the cost of gas and maintaining their cars. For those that don't live on a bus line, the higher costs of gasoline are stretching their already tight budgets."
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