More pump pain

Area residents and businesses can expect gas prices to increase — again.

State officials announced last week that the gasoline tax will increase by almost 4 cents a gallon, starting Sunday.

The increase is the second this year alone, forcing local businesses like Yellow Cab Company to tighten a budgetary belt already squeezed.

“It puts a hurting on all of us,” said Yellow Cab General Manager Ron Stephens. “All it’s doing is making the rich man richer and poor man poorer.”

Yellow Cab Company, whose local headquarters is in Hickory, has 17 “gas guzzling” cars in its fleet, Stephens said. He said the consistent increases hurt the company’s budget and leave him with limited options to save money.

Investing in hybrid or eco-friendly cars is out of the question, he said, because the vehicles don’t provide enough space for clientele.

Fare rate increases, a more common solution, are also difficult. Like many other cities, Hickory’s city council has control over the maximum rates cab companies may charge.

“I’ve applied for two increases in the last two years and didn’t get either one of them,” Stephens said. “Even when the gas was up to $4 a gallon, they didn’t approve it.”

Last week, Revenue Secretary David Hoyle announced the state motor fuels tax would grow by 3.9 cents per gallon to a record 38.9 cents starting Jan 1. State law requires that the tax be recalculated automatically twice a year based on a formula linked to wholesale gas prices. The tax rose by 2.5 cents per gallon in July.

The upcoming tax increase falls in line with estimates made by the N.C.

Legislature's nonpartisan fiscal staff.

The N.C. House of Representatives voted last month to cap the tax at 35 cents for six months, but the N.C. Senate declined to take up the bill, saying it wasn't the right time to consider the change.

The new rate will make North Carolina the state with the highest state excise tax; sixth highest for total state gasoline taxes and fees; and seventh in the country for gas taxes when both federal and state taxes are factored.

As gas prices continue to remain high, residents, businesses and even municipalities are making changes to save money.

In Claremont, city and law enforcement officials are asking workers to do what they can to conserve gas.

Claremont Police is asking its officers to park 15 minutes out of every hour and turn their vehicles off. Officers are also asked to turn their cars off while they write reports.

“We’ve been trying to do this, but are going to be more adamant about it as prices are going up with our budget concerns,” said Pam Shook, CPD’s office administrator.

Claremont City Manager Doug Barrick said all departments are being asked to monitor their mileage.

“The police are trying to slight back when they can. The fire department is trying to keep the trucks in the bays when possible.

Public works, while they are out, if they don’t have to have the vehicle on, then turn it off.”

Barrick said the city has seen some reductions in fuel usage in recent months.

“It is an expense, but we budgeted for higher gas prices this year than what it is currently,” Barrick said. “It’s not going to hamper us service wise.”