Government Fleet Top News

High Fuel Prices Pinch Government Budgets

May 18, 2004

VALPARAISO, IN –- Escalating gasoline prices have left some Porter County officials searching for ways to manage budgets as fuel costs soar into uncharted territory, according to Northwest Indiana Times newspaper.Prices for consumers zoomed above $2 a gallon Monday settling at around $2.08 per gallon before dropping Tuesday to $1.98.Governments typically purchase fuel in bulk, after taking bids from distributors. While the fuel used is less expensive than what the average consumer would purchase at a gasoline station, it is subject to corresponding price increases.Reliance on fuel is an integral part of government departments throughout the county charged with keeping the peace or maintaining roads.Most of the gasoline consumed is the result of squad cars patrolling the county or municipal streets -- and digging deeper than usual into gasoline budgets.The county Sheriff's Department has a $90,000 general fund fuel budget this year. Aside from squad cars, the department gasoline also is used for jail transport vans and Animal Control Department vehicles.Skyrocketing gasoline prices mean that budget almost certainly will need revisiting for extra cash, or some adjustments may be required in the department. While close tabs are kept on squad car mileage, Capt. Tom Henderson said there is only $3,000 left from the general gasoline fund. Another $25,000 has been made available for fuel from other sources of revenue, he said.Still, he added, the county has dealt with gasoline price increases before. Oftentimes, it is just a matter of shifting money from fund to fund in order to account for the increased prices, Henderson said.Valparaiso Police Chief Michael Brickner said his department has $41,000 left of the $70,000 gasoline appropriation, slightly more than the same time last year.Brickner said they are looking at ways to maintain services while easing the strain on the gasoline budget. For example, police bicycle patrols recently instituted in the city mean four fewer squad cars to fill up, reported the Northwest Indiana Times.The Police Department also is investigating the possibility of converting some of the fleet to high performance, but more fuel-efficient cars, than those currently used by officers, Brickner said.While most of the County Highway Department fleet takes diesel fuel, high prices still make for an interesting predicament in terms of the office budget. The department is funded partially through gasoline taxes, department supervisor Al Hoagland said. High prices may steer people away from driving as much as usual, essentially limiting the department's revenue, he said.The Highway Department could benefit from a negligible amount of money spent on employee overtime pay because of a light winter and recent weather. Those saving could help defer the extra fuel costs, Hoagland said.

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