Rim Country Gas Prices Top $3 Gallon

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If you see gasoline being sold for less than $3 a gallon over the next few days -- fill 'er up.

Hurricane Katrina has knocked out refineries and severed pipelines along the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, which supply about a third of the country's gas, according to a CNBC online report.

"We have to (raise prices) with the refineries that are shut down in Louisiana and the other things that you see reported on the news, we just have no choice," said Candi DeCinko, manager of the Maverik station as she carried the new prices out to the marquee.

"We tried to hold off as long as we could. In fact, I think we were the last ones to raise our prices today (Thursday). We're still trying to be the best priced in town, and with our club card, I think we are."

The American Automobile Association's (AAA) Fuel Gauge Report on Sept. 1 showed Arizona had averages of $2.72 for regular, $2.84 for mid-range, and $3 for premium, for the most part higher than the national averages at $2.68, $2.85 and $2.95 respectively.

But Payson's gasoline prices soar even beyond state and national averages. Here at the town's 11 gas stations, motorists are paying more than 25 cents a gallon than drivers in the Valley.

Area emergency services must deal with rising fuel prices as well. The difference is, according to Town Manager Fred Carpenter, there are no taxes paid on gas purchased for the police and fire departments. That tax is about 20 cents a gallon, Carpenter said.

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Fuel tanker truck driver Jon Cox delivers 8,000 gallons of gasoline to the Maverik station on North Beeline Highway Thursday. Gasoline prices in Payson are higher than state and national averages.

"We try to add money to the fuel budgets in case something like this happens, but I don't think any of us predicted an increase of a dollar or more," Carpenter said.

To address the rising fuel costs, he said the town will minimize the driving its staff does, although that cannot realistically apply to police patrols and fire department emergency calls.

Life Star Ambulance, which serves the Payson area, will not be changing rates to meet the rising cost of fuel in the short term, according to Jim Bolin, chief financial officer for StarWest, the corporation that owns the ambulance service.

"Our fees and rates are regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services," he said. "If we were going to make a change, we would have to apply for it and go through a formal public hearing process."

He added that no decision has been made to pursue a rate change.

Some area businesses contacted in an informal telephone survey are considering adjusting prices to deal with rising fuel costs, though no formal action has been taken yet.

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