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Skyrocketing gas, oil prices mean trouble for Decatur fuel budgets

By Martin Burkey
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2441

Rising gas prices are hitting Decatur residents twice — at the pump and at City Hall, where department heads are coping with the hikes and adjusting their 2006 budget requests upward.

The city's adopted 2005 budget for gas and oil totals $483,250. With prices skyrocketing, however, departments are blowing their fuel budgets more than a month before the end of the city's fiscal year Sept. 30.

Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap, who oversees the city's mowing and tree-trimming, said he doesn't plan to let roadsides and fields get shaggy as the end of the budget year approaches.

But his department will feel the impact of gas prices somewhere in his budget.

His fuel budget for 2005 is $49,000. He asked for $57,000 for fuel in 2006, but noted that he submitted his budget request before the summer gas hikes.

"Gas and oil is simply a necessity to doing business," he said. "If we're going to be over, we'll take away from some other area."

The fuel budget for the Street Department was $63,800. The bill is already $67,452 with a month to go in fiscal 2005, Public Works Superintendent Franklin Parham said. Even so, it's still at the same level in his 2006 request. Likewise, the Sanitation Department fuel budget for 2005 was $135,000, but it's already over $137,000. Parham said he instructed drivers to turn off their trucks if they're not running their routes, but he doesn't have many other choices.

Fire Chief Charlie Johnson said he's already $5,500 over his $31,200 fuel budget. He is conserving fuel any way he can, but "we have to go to calls," Johnson said. He asked for $45,000 for fuel next year.

"We've never been in this predicament before, where we've got five or six more weeks in the fiscal year and we've expended our gasoline line item," Police Chief Joel Gilliam said. "Some of our cars are six years old. Because of the age of the vehicles, you burn more gas."

His department is about $8,000 over its $165,000 gas and oil budget this year, he said. He's asking for another $45,000 for next year, but he has to figure out how to get through this year first.

He may balance his '05 budget out of expected overtime spending, Gilliam said. He could take cars off the road and double up officers in the remaining vehicles, but he said he will have to figure out how to do it without affecting services and response time. Another option is to cut back his third shift or study crime statistics and assign police cars closer to the action.

But because much of what police try to do is prevent crime, Gilliam said, he will be anxious to see if crime statistics start rising as a result of any efforts to economize.

2006 budget

Mayor Don Kyle has yet to present his 2006 budget request to the council. But Finance Supervisor Linda McKinney said gas-price hikes are showing up in all city department budgets. The 2005 adopted city budget for fuel and oil is $483,250. Departments' 2006 requests for gas and oil total $565,100, an increase of $81,850.

Unfortunately for the city, higher gas prices don't mean more tax revenue for the city, Revenue Administrator Ronne Harvell noted. The gas tax is based on volume sold, not the price.

City Purchasing Agent Jeff Fussell said the city takes several measures to squeeze all the mileage it can from its gas budget. It buys gas through the governmental North Alabama Cooperative Purchasing Association. The price per gallon averages 16 cents over wholesale, which comes out to be 10 to 15 cents under pump prices.

A bigger advantage, Fussell said, is that the contract with Fuelman allows the city to track gas use by both employee and vehicle. When workers fill up at participating stations like Liberty 2000, Bud's, Texaco Express or others, their gas cards can't be used to fill up a personal vehicle or add a pack of cigarettes or food to the ticket.

But city officials agree it will take more than vending machine change for snacks or cigarettes to keep city vehicles running next year.

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