LEXINGTON, SC –As county governments begin debating their budgets for next year, they’re getting hit with rising costs of operating their fleets, according to State.com. The increases come during an already tight budget year when several counties say they are struggling to pay for increases in medical insurance and workers’ compensation. Through their local taxes, property owners may have to help pay the bill. With at least 757 vehicles, Richland County expects its gasoline bill to go up by $150,000 — a 16 percent increase. That’s more than triple the increase it paid in the 2003-2004 budget year. Lexington and Kershaw are bracing for smaller increases, but still watching the gas gauge. There’s not much the county can do, said Michael Byrd, director of Richland’s emergency services agency, which has 54 vehicles. Richland also expects to pay $6,000 more to fuel up fire trucks in unincorporated parts of the county. And the county’s garbage contractors are asking for $515,000 more, largely because of rising gas prices. County governments, with their large accounts, can get a break most motorists can’t. Richland County buys gasoline in bulk — 1,500 to 7,500 gallons at a time — at a discount. Last week, a gallon of unleaded cost $1.60. But the week before, the same gallon of gasoline cost $1.51. The Sheriff’s Department has a contract for officers to fill up their patrol cars’ tanks at participating gas stations throughout the county at a similar discount, since it’s not feasible for them to gas up at a central location. Deputies average 23,000 to 30,000 miles a year depending on which area of the county they work, said Chief Deputy Hubert Harrell. Harrell said he may not be able to afford to buy computers or equipment because of the increase in the cost of gas.He said the department has asked officers not to leave cars idling when it’s not needed.