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COST OF LIVING CREEPS UP .7 PERCENT ALONG THE WASATCH FRONT

The cost of living for Wasatch Front residents crept up 0.7 percent in May following a decrease in April.

First Security Corp.'s monthly Wasatch Front Cost of Living Report showed local declines in prices for clothing, groceries and health care. But those declines were offset by hikes in the cost of transportation, utilities, housing and restaurant food.Kelly K. Matthews, First Security economist, said the local 0.7 percent increase outpaced the non-seasonally adjusted increase of 0.2 percent reported nationally Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Wasatch Front Inflation Index - measured at 100 when the reports began in March 1988 - was 101.2 percent in May, well below the 110.9 percent calculated nationally from the same base month. Nearly all - 1.1 percent - of the local inflation has come in the past six months.

Here's how the various categories fared locally in May:

Groceries - Overall prices were down 0.8 percent after increasing in April. Increases for produce and alcoholic beverages were offset by declines in prices of meat and shelf items. Since March 1988, local food prices have increased 14.6 percent with 3.5 percent of that coming in the past six months.

Potato prices dropped for the second consecutive month, by 14.1 percent. Celery was up 36.5 percent; tomatoes, 25.7 percent; and coffee, 5.3 percent. Bread prices decreased 13.9 percent; cheese was 10.5 percent lower; and egg prices were down 8 percent. Sugar reversed its April trend with a decline of 4 percent. Meat prices were down 1.2 percent.

Health care - A 0.3 percent decline was measured locally for health care. A second month of higher prices on non-prescription drugs was offset by lower costs for a doctor's care. Health-care costs have climbed 7 percent since the reports began, with 3.9 percent coming in the past six months.

Clothing - Local clothing costs decreased 1.3 percent following four consecutive months of higher price tags. Higher costs for clothing maintenance were offset by a second month of lower prices on men's wear, a third month of lower prices on women's apparel, and lower prices for children's clothing. Since March 1988, local clothing costs have decreased 1 percent but are up 2.9 percent in the past six months.

Transportation - Costs were up 3.5 percent in May after a stable April. Higher gasoline prices were the reason, following two months of declining prices. Since March 1988, transportation costs are up 4.4 percent, with 3.4 of that in the past six months.

Restaurant food - The cost of eating out increased 0.3 percent last month after falling in April. Lower prices on salads and egg dishes were offset by increases in beef and chicken main dishes. Restaurant prices are up 2 percent over the life of the reports but are down 0.8 percent in the past six months.

Housing - For the fifth consecutive month, local housing costs - measured by rents - increased, up 0.4 percent in May. Since March 1988, housing costs have increased 1.4 percent. A larger, 2.8 percent rise has been measured in the past six months.

Utilities - Residential utility bills increased 2.8 percent in May after declining in April. Water rates were up an average 6.3 percent and natural gas rates also increased, by 2.5 percent. Electrical rates were stable. Since March 1988, utility costs have decreased 12.3 percent, with 5 percent of that in the past six months.