As gas prices drop, what is the indirect impact of fuel costs?

Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 6:50 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The holiday weekend is so close you can almost smell the barbecue and fireworks in the air.

The good news, for now, is that gas prices are trending down.

In Augusta, we’ve seen prices below $4. The average now is about 14 cents lower than the highest all-time average set a couple of weeks ago. South Carolina’s current average is about a cent higher than Georgia’s.

That’s down 23 cents from their all-time high set in early June. But paying less at the pump doesn’t mean you won’t feel the long-term effects of surging prices later.

Liz Ownes: “I’m waiting in line along with the rest of Augusta to pay less than $4 a gallon for the first time in months. Good or bad, we all feel the immediate impact when we pull up to the pump. What we don’t feel, at least yet, is the indirect impact of high gas this year.

“I was paying $30 before paying $50 now in gas it’s outrageous,” said one Augusta driver.

We asked how much they’d been paying for gas compared to what they’re paying now.

“The question should be how many times have I run out of gas,” they said.

Blue-collar, white-collar, no collar…

“Gas prices are ridiculous,” another driver said.

We all feel pain at the pump. Rick Franza warns skyrocketing fuel prices could soon cost us in other ways.

He’s the dean at the James M. Hull College of Business at Augusta University.

“Like everyone else, I hate it,” he said. “Governments are certainly affected by fuel costs- costs in general but particularly fuel costs more than others. They have to redo their whole budgets.”

The I-TEAM compared fuel expenses from January through May of last year to this year. We also examined gas budgets by department.

Here’s what we found out: More than half of Augusta-Richmond County departments budgeted for less fuel for 2022.

Among the departments feeling the most heat from high gas prices this year is fire.

The fire department slashed fuel nearly in half from its budget. Within the first five months of the year, fire had already gone through 70% of its budget for gas.

The recreation department cut fuel for maintenance around Riverwalk Augusta Commons by more than 50 percent and cut more than 40 % for upkeep at city-maintained cemeteries.

By May, the rec department had nearly surpassed its fuel budget for both. Utilities, engineering, Augusta Housing and Community Development have blown through their annual gas budgets.

Liz: “With cities spending so much more than they budgeted for what is the impact on taxpayers, or will there be an impact?”

Rick: “There is going to have to be some reduction in some services and how they manage. That is going to be an important decision for the commissioners and the people who make those decisions.”

Those decisions are being made now according to the spokesperson for the county administrator.

In an email to the I-TEAM she writes: “In the wake of rising fuel costs, your Augusta, Georgia government is making conservative efforts within our current fiscal year operating budget to offset the increase in gas prices. Internal adjustments to allocated departmental operating budgets would not typically impact taxpayers.”

Just like we, the taxpayers...

One Augusta driver said: “You can’t go on family vacations. You can’t do anything because gas prices have skyrocketed.”

The government will prioritize and cut. The suspension of the gas tax in Georgia has helped alleviate some of the cost at the pump, but there is an indirect impact to that too.

The gas tax funds road projects. Suspending the tax could make for a bumpy ride over the next few years.

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