Pain in the wallet

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

When the price of something as essential as fuel to get to a job or operate a farm becomes prohibitive, what do people do?

Terry Reynolds, Eminence, recently put gas in his car at BP in Eminence. He said being currently unemployed, he needs to look for work, but without a paycheck he can’t fill his tank.

“I’ve only put 60 miles on my car in the last two weeks,” Reynolds said. “Normally I’d be out looking every day. As far as I’m going today is Smithfield.”

That doesn’t surprise Bryan Raisor, Henry County Service Coordinator for the Tri-County Community Action Agency. He said the agency is seeing a different kind of client applying for assistance. They are Henry County residents who can no longer afford to drive to Louisville for jobs.

“They are quitting good paying jobs in Louisville, and taking lower paying jobs closer to home,” Raisor said.

For some people non-essentials, like recreation, might be the first to take a hit.

It appears that some local residents have cut back on vacations. An employee at the BP station in Eminence said that is one of the few things he has heard several people say they will do without.

Carol Peyton of Eminence agreed. “I ain’t going nowhere, no pleasure trips at all” she said.

Peggy Kilgore, Executive Director of the Oldham County YMCA said she has noticed changes, but sees a balance in the the way people are coping at the YMCA’s Buckner facility. “We are seeing people making the choice to drop membership because of gas prices,” she said.

Kilgore was quick to point out, however, that she also has noticed more people coming together, for instance by carpooling to swimming lessons and games.

Wes Gibson, Eminence Hometown Pizza manager, said that although his business hasn’t taken a direct financial hit yet, everything is changing. Gibson said that delivery truck drivers have to pay more for fuel, food costs are up and labor costs have to be monitored carefully.

He admitted that business slowed with the initial spike in gas prices. “There was a hit in the beginning,” he said. Then, he said it leveled off and folks came back.

“Food is what people use to try and get away,” he said. “They’re not thinking about gas prices when they sit down to a meal.”

Although one television report found that people still pamper their pets, local animal control personnel noted an increase in the number of pets coming into shelters.

Del Hagy, former Animal Control Officer and Shelter Manager for Henry and Trimble counties said that the minimum cost of maintaining a pet is $500 per year and many families can no longer afford that.

“We’ve had an extraordinary lot of owner turn-ins,” he said. “A lot of people are turning their pets in because they can’t afford to feed and take care of them.”

He and current director, Mike McNutt both cited housing costs as reason for the escalation. “We’ve had quite a few because of people having to move because of home foreclosures,” Hagy said.

In May, 170 animals were brought to the shelter, up from a monthly average of 75-100. The numbers remained high through the beginning of June, but tapered off toward the end, and have slowed in July.

Hagy said that animals brought to the Henry County facility generally end up in Louisville. “A majority go to Steedly, our main campus in Louisville,” he said. They are then spayed or neutered, vaccinated and adopted out.

Louisville Humane Society spokesperson, Michelle Ray, confirmed that numbers are up. She said that 200-300 more pets have been turned-in in 2008 than at this time last year. Ray also said they are seeing significantly older pets being left at the shelter. “We had a 10-year old Rottweiler and a 13-year old cat brought in recently,” she said.

Ray said that some pet owners find themselves in the position of having to choose between food for their families or their pets.

She stressed that the Humane Society is a resource for people who can no longer care for their pets. “Come here and we will help you,” she said.

The Tri-County CAA offers an extensive list of services to Henry County residents every year, but Raisor has noticed that people are requesting help with utilities earlier this year. He explained that in order to qualify for help with utilities during the summer months, temperatures have to remain over 100 for an extended period. As the weather has remained moderate so far this summer, that financial assistance is not forthcoming. “Finding other resources is very difficult,” he said.

Raisor noted that the Meals on Wheels program for homebound residents in New Castle, Eminence and Pleasureville also is struggling. He recently experienced the resignation of a long-time meal deliverer who said she couldn’t help anymore because of high gas prices. Deliverers are paid a small fee, but Raisor noted that the fee is not enough to cover the high price of fuel. He expressed a hope that local churches would coordinate volunteers to each take one day a week to deliver meals. Raisor said that a united effort would be of great help to the program. “We try very hard to serve as many people as we can,” he said.

The local school systems are feeling the pinch.

In June, Henry County Public Schools and Eminence Independent Schools said that due to a sharp rise in food and fuel costs, they would be forced to raise food service prices across the board for the 2008-09 school year.

Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Tim Abrams said he believed the changes were traceable to fuel prices. He theorized that vendors have to submit higher bids when they must drive the extra miles to locales outside metro Louisville. Abrams noted that transportation costs have really hurt local school systems.

The Henry County Board of Education unanimously approved the 10-cent hike at their regular meeting on Thursday, June 19.”

In Eminence, the story is the same. Cafeteria prices will go up this year.

Superintendent Don Aldridge said that food service staff had cut every corner in the cafeteria that it could.

He noted that food costs for the district between July 1 and December 31 will increase by 13.5 percent. Aldridge said the milk bid was up by eight percent and the bread bid by three percent.

According to a handout distributed at the June 17 Eminence Board of Education meeting, it costs $2.70 for a school to prepare and serve a meal. Food costs are $1.19, non-food costs are .14, labor costs are $1.26 and indirect costs are .11.

Farmers also are hard hit.

Henry County Extension Service Agriculture Agent, Steve Moore noted that farmers are working together to conserve fuel.

“High energy costs are making farmers take a serious look at all farm operations,” he said. “Each time they start a tractor or move a vehicle around, they are intending to streamline, to be collaborative in efforts, to be ahead of the curve.”

Moore said that farmers are making sure to get all their operations done in one place before moving the equipment on to the next farm.

“That’s so that they don’t just drive a tractor back and forth, which wasn’t such an important task in the past,” he said.

Moore explained that farmers are being very careful to accomplish everything they can finish at one property before moving on to the next. “That’s been one of the biggest changes I’ve seen,” he said. “Farmers are doing custom work around their own area or farm more than one farm, planning their attack on one farm before moving to another farm.

“Our farming population is dealing with this as much as an urban population,” Moore said.

Law enforcement isn’t exempt from high-priced gas either.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said fuel prices have been difficult on the agency. In a memo to the media it was noted that fuel costs in May 2008 were up by $132,000 compared to May 2007 for six percent less fuel.

For that reason KSP announced Operation Safe C.H.E.C.K. (Concentrated Highway Enforcement Checkpoints in Kentucky) a summer enforcement campaign that will conserve fuel while maintaining enforcement levels. The campaign runs through Labor Day weekend.

The effort will reduce the number of roving patrols while increasing stationary checkpoints. “Regardless of the cost of fuel, you have to provide protection,” Brewer said. “But, if there are ways to provide effective law enforcement and save lives while reducing fuel costs, that’s what we’ll try to do.”

Gas stations have their problems, too. At the Cowboy’s gas station in Pendleton, fuel now must be charged at the pump or prepaid with cash. Because of its I-71 location, the business had seen a dramatic increase in drive-offs.

Some people take it one day at a time. A Cowboy’s employee in Eminence noted that some people still buy just a little gas at a time. “It’s amazing how many people still buy five dollars in gas,” she said. A customer at Four Seasons gas station in New Castle purchased ten dollars worth, under three gallons. “I just put in a little at a time hoping the price will go down,” she said.

News Intern Erin Melwing contributed to this story.

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