Inflation & supply worries mark end of 2021

by Kate Shunney, Kate Evans & Trish Rudder

Historic inflation rates mark the end of 2021, with the 12-month period showing a 6.8% increase in consumer prices – the largest hike over 12 months since 1982, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Morgan County residents and county government agencies are running into higher prices, shortages of items and delays in getting materials and parts.

These realities are in effect from the gas pump to grocery shelves to commercial and residential construction, creating a pressure on  budgets and extending timelines for work and inventory.

Morgan County Commission maintenance director Randy Stotler has reported to commissioners that the costs of building materials will show up as higher bids for any county projects, and bids have a shorter shelf life now. Stotler said many contractors aren’t even submitting bids for work because they are overbooked. When they do, those bids are only good for weeks, rather than months, because prices keep fluctuating rapidly.

Morgan County Schools officials said that they have been more affected by supply chain issues than by inflation.

Child Nutrition/Food Services Director Angela Beddow said that U.S. Department of Agriculture has kept the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) reimbursements rates in place during the 2021-2022 school year to help cover the costs tied to inflation, and sanitization measures due to COVID-19.

“This measure has allowed us to continue to serve our regular menu items. The school system is being impacted mostly by supply shortages of food and paper products Due to labor shortages in shipping, trucking and factories the volume of products isn’t readily available in the numbers we are accustomed to,” Beddow said.

“Our school system has been able to locate products through various vendors and use our USDA commodities to ensure that our students are still getting a healthy, balanced meal that meets federal nutritional requirements. Being flexible and thinking outside the box has allowed us to make fewer adjustments to our menus than some other school districts throughout the nation,” Beddow noted.

Morgan County Schools Treasurer Ann Bell said that at this point in time, they haven’t had to discontinue anything or delay anything due to rising costs.

“Our greater challenges have come from supply chain shortages and shipping delays.  This has especially been the case in child nutrition.  Menu items which were once readily available are not causing substitutions in menus.  Supply chain problems and shipping delays are also being felt in our technology department.  Due to heavy demand and production issues, technological devices have much greater lead times than those prior to the pandemic,” Bell said.

Bell stressed that “they will continue to monitor rising costs and inflation and make adjustments if needed.”

School Transportation Director Tammy Painter said she agreed with Bell that it wasn’t about price increases as much as parts for their buses being hard to get.

“Waiting on parts has delayed our normal repair time for buses,” Painter said.

Sheriff K.C. Bohrer said his department has run into delays in getting supplies and new vehicles ordered months ago.

“Vehicles have gone up dramatically and obtaining them is very difficult. Previously I could order new cars for the fleet and have within about two months.  Now we are told it might be 4-6 months and even then it is uncertain,” he said.

Price pressures and labor shortages affect law enforcement as they do in the private sector, pushing workers to higher-paying offers.

“I worry about manpower always,” Bohrer said. “ As costs rise will officers be required to seek higher paying jobs in law enforcement to support their families.   We have had difficulty with attracting viable candidates due to low salaries locally.”

“Everything is costing more.  All the basic consumables we use in the performance of our duties, I notice costs more when I order them,” Bohrer said.

Out in individual neighborhoods, people are still carrying pandemic worries, which are now coupled with price concerns.

Wanda Murray said everything started to rise when the pandemic shut businesses down.

Since then, “whatever it takes to run a home has increased,” she said.

Murray said last year she spent about $52 less a week on groceries. The cost for trash pick-up has increased, and gasoline prices have risen as well, which takes more money to pay for trips to medical doctors.

She said her daughter has been driving her to her doctors’ appointments and the cost has jumped from $3.17 per gallon to $3.39.

Gas prices in Berkeley Springs on Monday, December 20.

She said she cannot afford to buy Christmas presents this year, but she has made food gifts instead to give to family members.

John Rudder said he believes the pandemic is a major source of price changes.

“Although prices were on the rise due to various normal and cyclical economic causes unrelated to Covid-19, when the pandemic kicked in, the inflationary spiral was impacted substantially,” Rudder said.

“The supply chain was interrupted, so the demand was greater than the supply,” he said. “When supply catches up with the demand, inflated prices will decrease.”

He said supply and demand is the key.

“So, with gasoline, the demand is so high, prices will continue to rise until the demand lessens. If gas purchasing diminishes, gas prices will go down. The gas companies will charge what the market will bear,” said Rudder.

He recommended people limit their buying and only go out once a week to get supplies or run errands.

Rudder studies economic issues. He said the law of supply is to keep products moving as long as prices are rising. The law of demand states that as prices increase, the quantity demanded decreases.

“Inflation is cyclical; this will pass,” he said. “But it does not diminish the pain of higher prices.”