In today's economy, cost containment is a necessity.

In today's economy, cost containment is a necessity.
Attempts to decrease expenditures are why businesses are downsizing and thousands of people are losing their jobs.
Bright spots in the current economic situation are seemingly few and far between. But if there's been one place where organizations and individuals can breathe a little easier, it's at the gas pump.
The price of gasoline has plummeted since last summer, when a gallon of regular unleaded in the Pittsburg area flirted with $4. And while prices have increased some in the past month, local prices remain below $2 per gallon — a mark many thought impossible.
Many local residents were ecstatic when the price of gas dropped below $3 per gallon last fall. But few believed it would reach the price it is today. The thought of the cost dipping under $2 per gallon was almost laughable.
"I don't think we'll ever see that again," Bob Torbett, of Pittsburg, said in October. "That was forever ago. "
But prices did get that low, and for the moment, remained there. And while individuals are saving money because of lower gas prices, local government entities and businesses also are reaping the benefits of lower fuels costs.
John Van Gorden, Pittsburg's interim city manager, said the significant decrease in gas prices has "put the city back on our normal budgeting process." He said some city departments spent more money than expected on fuel last year, forcing the city to pull funds from other areas to make up the difference.
"Before, we overspent some line items that we had, so it came out of somewhere else," he said.
In 2008, the city budgeted $14,000 for fuel costs. The "fear of the unknown" led the city to budget $18,000 for fuel in 2009, but Van Gorden isn't certain the city will spend that much.
"We budgeted that because we anticipate the prices going back up," he said. "But in June, we can amend that number if we're not using as much. If fuel prices stay low, we'll cut that number back and take that excess money and put it back in cash reserves."
Van Gorden said the relatively low fuel costs has been a "relief" for the city and its budget. He said now that gas prices are around half of what they were in the summer, more money is made available for other uses.
"When we had to spend more on fuel, we may have to take less operating supplies or spend less on maintenance," he said. "As long as the bottom line came out in the black, we were OK."
Other area city officials also are feeling a bit relieved thanks to decreased fuel costs. Tim Schook, city administrator in Arma, said last summer's gas prices caused some "overages" in spending.
"So what happened last year was a lot of that money came out of the reserves," Schook said. "As I look at it now, we're probably not going to have to dip into our reserves this year for gas.”
Schook said Arma's police department is the city's largest consumer of gasoline. He said the city has tried to take steps to curb gasoline use, but measures too drastic could affect the quality of service from city departments.
"It is difficult to do to much of an extreme because you don't want to make it to where your cops aren't out patrolling the streets," he said.
Local businesses that consume a lot of gas daily also are breathing sighs of relief. Sammy Perez, owner of Sammy's Cab service, said last summer's gas prices nearly forced him to raise the company's rates.
"It was real bad for us," he said. "We decided that if it went above $4.10 per gallon, we'd have to up the prices. But it never reached that, thankfully. It's definitely a relief now, though. It's working out a whole lot better for us."
But now that a gallon of gas costs much less than it did six months ago, Perez said some customers are asking why his prices have not decreased.
"We still have the same bills we had before," he said.
For local school districts, the decreased price of gas has been somewhat of a help during this time of continued budgeting tightening. Gary Snawder, superintendent of USD 248 in Girard, said the district has seen a significant decrease in fuel expenditures.
"What's really saving us right now is the lower price of diesel fuel," Snawder said.
Lita Biggs, director of finance for USD 250 in Pittsburg, said the school district hasn't seen a significant change in fuel expenditures through the first half of the current school year compared to what it spent during the 2007-2008 school year. The reason, Biggs said, is because fuel consumption was lowest when fuel prices were highest — the summer months when school is not in session.
But Biggs warned that if prices get anywhere near where they once were — and consumption stays the same — the district could end up paying more than for fuel than it did last year.
"If the next five months' expenses rise dramatically and our mileage stays similar to most years, we might see a slight increase in fuel expense," Biggs said.
Most expect gas prices to go up. Where they stop, however, is anybody's guess.
"I think they're going to go up, but I don't think we'll see $4 again," Schook said.