PARRSBORO - Leigh Wheaton used to see school buses regularly lining up for fuel in the yard of his gas station, but now it seems they have found a better deal at the local highway garage.
Since late February, the school buses have been fueling up with snowplows and other Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) equipment at the local garage in Cross Roads.
"It's quite a loss in sales," said Wheaton, who estimated a loss of about $2,500 every two weeks. "It's going to hurt because we're a small business."
Wheaton's Irving, the town's last surviving gas station, has not seen a school bus at its pumps since Feb. 16.
Wheaton said the new policy had been rumoured for awhile, but he was then told by one bus driver that it was not going to happen. Then plans changed again.
Losing business to a private competitor is one thing, but losing out to the provincial government is something else, he said.
"It's not the way it should be," said Wheaton. "The government should be helping, not taking away."
The policy is not a new one, according to Chignecto-Central Regional School Board spokesperson Carolyn Pierce. She said that the DTIR gets its gas through provincial procurement at a lower cost.
"So throughout the school board region, wherever it's reasonable to get access to their fuel, that's where we purchase because obviously it's more economical for the school board," said Pierce. "In that area it took us awhile for the school board to co-ordinate access to the local DTIR, and now we have that access."
The policy is not sitting well with Cumberland County Council, which agreed at its March 7 meeting to write a letter to Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie and the school board to offer their protest.
"Why would they pick on a small businessman providing employment in a small town, and start using taxpayer money to buy fuel from another provincial organization?" asked Coun. Ratchford Merriam. "I imagine it would be less per litre, but what would be the reasoning for doing that?"
For one government department to subsidize another is really "pushing a button" for Coun. Gerald Read.
"It's almost like unfair competition," he said. "They threw out all the private operators as far as buses go, and they weren't allowed to use anything other than regular, high-priced gas. Now they're taking and subsidizing in that respect? I don't think it's right whatsoever."
Coun. Ron McNutt said the school board and the province should be reminded that the school board is funded by more than one level of government.