Some question survey findings as too high

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A newly released study placed Brookhaven in the unenviable topspot among U.S. cities in terms of how much household income isspent on fuel, but some local officials are questioning the city’sranking.

A research analysis conducted by MapInfo Corporation reports theaverage household income of Brookhaven at $46,621 with 7.38 percentof that income spent on fuel. The totals put Brookhaven number oneamong the top 10 U.S. cities where the percentage of income spenton gas is the highest.

Brookhaven Lincoln-County Chamber of Commerce Executive DirectorCliff Brumfield learned of the study results late last week. Heacknowledged higher gas expenditures, but doubted the study’sfindings.

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“We are spending more on gas than we have before, but the peopleI’ve ran the number by that drive into the metro area weekly feltthe number was quite high,” Brookhaven said.

Albert Brown Jr., a Brookhaven firefighter who was fueling histruck on Brookway Boulevard Friday, said he also questioned theresults. However, he admitted the city uses a lot of gasoline.

“We have a bunch of surrounding communities and the people thatlive in the county have to fuel here, Brown said. “A lot of otherstravel through here while commuting or traveling to Jackson andother larger cities. And people I know from out of town tell me allthe time about how busy a city Brookhaven is for its size.”

MapInfo Product Manager Sebastien Rancourt said that datacollected from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor andStatistics provided the information for gasoline expenses.

“The expenditure information is created by a survey that is doneby the Bureau of Labor and Statistics done across America oncategories such as food and gas,” Rancourt said. “The data is notgathered from driving through. It is captured from people living inthe area.”

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Web site “theconsumer expenditure survey collects information from the nation’shouseholds and families on their buying habits (expenditures),income, and household characteristics.”

The Web site also says that the data collected from the surveyis “used in a number of different ways by a variety of users” andthat caution should be used in interpreting the expenditure data,especially when relating averages to individual circumstances suchas family size, age of family members, geographic location andindividual tastes.

Information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau provided MapInfowith average household income figures.

“It starts with the 2000 census demographics and on an annualbasis the Census Bureau releases control totals at the statelevel,” Rancourt said. “This is basically an estimated householdpercentage.”

MapInfo used the information from the two bureaus to develop theestimation.

“We took the household income and the amount spent on gasolineand developed a percentage of how much is spent on gas,” Rancourtsaid.

Brumfield was skeptical to the accuracy of the findings.

“After learning what numbers were used to formulate MapInfo’sresults, I must say that I feel those results are quiet skewed,”Brumfield said. “When you take into consideration the very smalland minute responses that were sent back to the bureau andcalculated for these results, which are derived from other sourcesthan MapInfo and not their own research, (it) seems to me thenumbers are inaccurate.”

Brumfield said that the rural nature of the area must be takeninto consideration.

“Many people in our area of the country do drive 30, 40, evenmore miles per day to and from work,” Brumfield said. “Our morerural location does require some families to put more miles ontheir vehicles than others.

“However, I do find it hard to believe that the average familyin Brookhaven spends 7 percent of their gross income on fuel,though certainly some may,” he continued.

Other cities in the MapInfo study’s top 10 included GrandJunction, Col. (6.60 percent), Campbellsville, Ky. (6.48 percent),Palestine, Texas (6.29 percent), Mount Vernon, Ohio (6.29 percent),Parson, Kan. (6.27 percent), Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Cal.(6.10 percent), Hobbs, N.M. (6.05 percent), Cookeville, Tenn. (5.94percent) and Hope, Ark. (5.94 percent).