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Thursday, October 27, 2005 

Searcy Resident Questions Beebe About Gas Prices...




GETTING GAS ELSEWHERE



Face it — the days of $1 gas are over. Today gas prices are well over the $2 a gallon mark, but seem to vary from town to town. White County has some of the highest gas prices in the state which has forced residents to travel further to get gas at a cheaper rate. This high rate has many people asking — Why are the gas prices so high in White County?

By Joseph Goldstein

and Philip Holsinger


The Daily Citizen


Gasoline distributors in Searcy aren’t talking about why White County motorists drive to Cabot when their gas tanks begin to show empty.

The reason that gas prices in Searcy exceed gas prices in nearby Cabot — and the state average in Arkansas — remains a mystery to most in White County. Searcy Mayor Belinda LaForce said she has noticed the trend but is not sure what is behind it.

A gallon of regular unleaded cost an average of $2.67 on Wednesday, a full 14 cents higher than the state-wide average. Across the state regular gas prices are $2.53, according to a AAA daily fuel gauge report.

In nearby Cabot, which is a haven for White Countians seeking cheaper gas prices, regular gasoline cost $2.46 a gallon Wednesday, according to a survey.

Gasoline in White County is distributed by a few key businessman, all of whom either declined comment or did not return calls for comment.

Bobby Reynolds, of Reynold’s Oil and Tire Co., did not return calls for comment. Shell Blakely of B-B Oil Co. Inc. did not return calls for comment. Rick Kent of Mid-State Distributing did not return calls for comment. Representatives of Stephenson Oil Co. refused to comment why prices in Searcy exceeded prices elsewhere. Robert Allison of Allisons Convenience Stores said he did not understand why the community is so interested in his gas prices. Murphy Oil USA Inc. spokesperson Mindy West said that she was neither able nor willing to discuss her company’s gas prices in Searcy.

Some White County residents have stopped buying from stations in White County in favor of driving to cheaper filling stations.

At the Murphy Oil station off Highway 167 in Cabot, White Countians can be found purchasing gasoline at $2.39 a gallon on Wednesday.

“We always get gas here,” said Andrew Vaughan of Searcy. “It has always been at least 10 cents cheaper than Searcy.”

The Murphy Station at Searcy’s Wal-Mart complex sold gasoline for as high as $2.66 on Wednesday.

At the Murphy station in Cabot, citizens of Searcy are more willing to speculate on what might make gas prices in Searcy higher than they are twenty five miles down the freeway.

“It seems like [Searcy gas stations] have a meeting each week because the prices are the same everywhere,” Amanda Vaughan, Andrew’s wife, said. “Here [in Cabot] they compete.”

John Harris of Searcy said he suspects the Searcy gas stations are working together to keep prices high.

“What I don’t understand, is in Searcy they got to be all together,” he said. “When Murphy Oil came into Wal-Mart they held the price down. But now they are right in bed with all the others.”

Harris said he also purchases fuel in Cabot.

White County Judge Bob Parish said that he sees the exodus of motorists from White County as potentially harmful to the county’s economy. People do not only purchase gas when they reach a filling station, but often buy snacks and groceries. When those purchases are made in White County, county government collects sales tax revenue. When those purchases are made in Lonoke or Pulaski County, White County makes nothing.

“It hurts our economy locally when people leave the county to buy gasoline,” Parish said. “But you can’t blame the people.”

Parish himself said that rising gas prices have driven him to occasionally fill up his tank in Bee Branch, where he has found a particularly cheap filling station.

“They talk about the war in Iraq and they talk about gas prices in Searcy, Arkansas,” Parish said.

Harris said he doesn’t understand why Attorney General Mike Beebe hasn’t spoken out against gas prices in Searcy.

“I don’t understand why Mike Beebe hasn’t gotten involved here. I figured he would jump in,” Harris said. “Maybe he has.”

The state government does not have a regulatory board tracking gas prices. The Attorney General’s office is responsible for investigating unfair trading practices, particularly when Arkansas is under a state of emergency, said Attorney General Mike Beebe spokesperson Matt DeCample.

DeCample said that the Attorney General’s office is currently investigating complaints of price gouging at gas stations throughout Arkansas in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. DeCample declined to say whether Searcy’s gas stations were a part of the investigation.

DeCample did say that the Attorney General’s office received several complaints of unusually high gas prices from White County residents this week.

Throughout the state there are stations selling gas at higher prices than Searcy’s stations. Topping that list is Bald Knob. The Citgo station on Highway 367 sold the priciest gallon of regular gasoline in all of Arkansas earlier this week, according to gasbuddy.com.

The average price for regular unleaded gas in Bald Knob over this period was $2.79 a gallon.

Seven of the 15 most expensive filling stations in Arkansas earlier this week were located in White County, according to gasbuddy.com.

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