09/10/06 — Gas prices dropping

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Gas prices dropping

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 10, 2006 2:02 AM

Who would have thought that $2.49 would seem like a bargain when it comes to filling up your tank?

After weeks of watching prices edge closer to $3 than $2, local and state officials -- and gas distributors -- are not putting away their worry beads, at least not yet.

Some of the drop, they say is due to the time of year.

Sarah Davis of the American Automobile Association office in Charlotte said gas prices are coming down because the summer vacation driving season has ended.

She said crude oil prices also have been dropping since an uneasy cease fire was arranged in Lebanon between Israel and the Hezbollah militia.

Goldsboro's average was $2.65 a gallon, and the state's average was $2.68 earlier this week. The cheapest gas in the state could be found in Wilmington at $2.59 a gallon.

But that was at mid-week.

Since then, the prices have broken the $2.50 mark -- and are still dropping.

Gas inventories are healthy, Ms. Davis said, and the gas prices are the lowest they have been since May.

"We're expecting gas prices to continue to fall," she said.

But Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he is not counting on gas prices continuing their decline.

He based his budget this year on a gas price of $2.75 a gallon, and he is still asking employees who drive company vehicles to reduce their mileage. The county has 225 cars and trucks, including ambulances.

It's too early to tell if the lower gas prices will help the county cut costs this year, Smith said.

"I was just hoping this year to break even," he said. "I doubt we'll have much left over."

So far, the county has seen about a $75,000 increase in fuel costs, which is down from an anticipated $100,000 increase. Most of that savings, he said, is due to reducing mileage.

Smith said he is still trying to hire a fleet manager to continue with cost reductions. Among the possible savings techniques is reconfiguring county routes to make them more cost-efficient.

A fleet manager could also recommend cars that are more fuel-efficient for the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, and determine whether the county should pay mileage or provide vehicles for its departments.

For gas distributors, after months of listening to consumer complaints and explaining rising prices, relative quiet out of some of the international hot spots has been good news for supply and demand, said Judson Pope of E.J. Pope and Son.

When the bad news from North Korea, Iran and Israel is limited, gas prices are not as volatile, Pope said.

"In the gas business, no news is good news as it relates to those countries," he said.

But even he isn't ready to guarantee gas prices will stop being a pain in most Wayne County residents' budgets.

"Who knows if (the gas prices) will keep coming down," he said.