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Some Western Pennsylvania businesses raise prices to offset higher cost of gas

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 1:01 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Eureka Community Ambulance Service emergency medical technician Jim Weidenhoff fills the tank of an ambulance at the Marathon gas station in Tarentum on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 20, 2013. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Whether it's the ambulance service or the florist or the concrete delivery company, all are getting shellacked at the pump where the cost of gasoline averages $3.78 per gallon in Western Pennsylvania.

Consumers can expect to take multiple hits from just about any service that involves a delivery from a car or truck.

Western Pennsylvania gas prices climbed this week as local motorists paid an average three cents more at the pump, according to AAA Fuel Gauge.

Gas prices continue to rise nationally with an average of $3.74 — up 15 cents from last week and 45 cents this month.

The price for gasoline has gone up every day for the past 33 days, according to Nancy White, a spokeswoman for AAA.

Financial speculators appear to be one of the culprits. Then there are regional refinery issues and the approaching switch to summer-blend gasoline, according to analysts.

Consumers take a hit

Consumers stand to lose on a number of fronts, according to PNC economist Kurt Rankin.

Rising gas prices have the potential to further hamper consumer activity in Western Pennsylvania, which is key to stimulating job growth, he said.

“It's certainly sapping disposable income in the region,” Rankin said.

And the impact is heightened by a 2 percent increase in payroll taxes that took effect at the beginning of the year.

Then there's Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to uncap an oil company franchise tax that could cost consumers an extra 9.5 cents per gallon on July 1.

“It's having an impact,” said Rich Heuser, chief of operations for Eureka Fire Rescue and EMS in Tarentum.

“We're running roughly about 2,000 miles a month on all three EMS units, and they aren't the greatest things in the world in terms of gas mileage,” Heuser said.

“You're limited by what the insurance companies and Medicare will pay,” he said.

Heuser plans to cut where he can to compensate for the increased fuel costs.

“Maybe we don't buy a new piece of equipment,” Heuser said. “We might have to refurbish something old, and there's things that are niceties that you do without. You have to take the prudent route to make it work.”

Making an adjustment

Some businesses are absorbing the costs for the moment while others are changing their prices.

“We've already adjusted and added a fuel surcharge,” said John Thrower Jr., president of Thrower Trucking Inc., a 54-year-old concrete and delivery company in Saxonburg.

The company is charging an average of $10 per load to its commercial and residential customers in a 30-mile radius of Saxonburg.

“The cost of fuel is definitely impacting us,” Thrower said. “And we have initiated close to a 3 percent increase in pricing just to cover the fuel.”

He estimates that as concrete season begins in March, the fuel cost might reduce sales by less than 1 percent.

Some companies are letting the price hike ride.

“We don't like to juggle our delivery fees, and we're absorbing the price increase now,” said Sheridan Johns, one of the owners of Jackie's Flower and Gift shop in West Kittanning.

The florist's two vehicles serve just about anyone having a birthday in a 30-mile radius as well as ACMH Hospital in East Franklin and area funeral homes.

For many businesses, delivery fees range from $2 to $10.

“We're going to see where the price levels out,” Johns said. “We will focus more on giving good service and taking care of our customers than offsetting a charge like that.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com. Contributing were McClatchy Newspapers and Trib Total Media staff writers Tom Fontaine and Alex Nixon.

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