Local News

Local Law Enforcement Agencies Feeling Pain at the Gas Pump

Posted May 17, 2007 9:11 p.m. EDT
Updated May 18, 2007 8:51 a.m. EDT

— Fluctuating gas prices are taking a toll on local law enforcement agencies in such a way that the North Carolina Highway Patrol says it might have to cut back on enforcing traffic laws if it does not get more funding.

So far this fiscal year, the Patrol has spent approximately $6.1 million on gasoline although it's only allocated about $3.6 million to fuel its 1,800 patrol cars.

To make up the difference, it's had to reallocate funds from other programs and special projects, such as speed enforcements and crackdowns.

"We've had to limit those this budget year, because we simply don't have the money to pay for overtime," Patrol spokesman Lt. Everett Clendenin said.

In the state's current budget proposal for next year, the Highway Patrol is scheduled to get the exact same amount of money for fuel as this year. That could mean serious issues in how the state agency operates, Clendenin said.

"We're talking, maybe, to have to park troopers on the side of the highway," he said, adding that would mean little or no traffic enforcement.

The funding can only come from the General Assembly, which is already working on next year's budget.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, said any additional funding would have to come from the state's Highway Trust Fund, which finances road construction.

"I'm sure we'll be looking into that and trying to give them some relief," he said.

Fluctuating gas prices have made it difficult for officials to project reasonable budget amounts. When funds were allocated for this year, fuel prices were beginning to drop. Looking ahead to next year will prove difficult, said Tom Kurlya, who heads the fleet division of Wake County government.

"As far as projecting next year's price per gallon and budgeting the right dollar amount, it's very difficult," Kurlya said. "No one's got that magic Eight Ball, so we try to go off of what we've actually paid for fuel."

Kurlya manages the 419-vehicle fleet of the Wake County Sheriff's Office, which expects to come in under it's budgeted fuel amount of $857,000. He credits some of that to buying fuel in bulk.

But the sheriff's office has had to make a number of changes to the way it operates. For example, it has started downsizing some of its vehicles from Crown Victorias to Chevrolet Impalas, which get about 4-5 more miles per gallon.

Another change that Kurlya credits to saving money: Officers now have commercial fuel cards they use at selected gas stations in their patrol areas. That keeps them from having to drive to one of three designated service areas in the county -- which can be up to 50 miles roundtrip.

"That amounts anywhere from 3 to 4 gallons of saved consumption on every trip," Kurlya said.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said those changes were necessary to help keep the public safe.

"We're going to go to the calls. We're going to continue to patrol," Harrison said. "If we have to rob part of our other budget to make sure we have gas in these cars, we're going to do that."