Local News

Municipalities cut back to fuel vehicles

Posted May 22, 2008 11:15 p.m. EDT
Updated May 23, 2008 12:25 p.m. EDT

— Prices at the gas pumps are leaving some wallets reading "empty." There is talk that gas prices could rise even more by the end of next year, and that's a worrisome prospect if you're a local-government manager who has to keep a fleet on the road.

Municipalities buy gas in bulk, but their prices are climbing, too. As prices soar, many must find ways to cut back to make up the difference between that they budgeted and what they have to pay.

"We have to make decisions on a daily basis,” Wake County Fleet Director Thomas Kuryla said.

Wake County has 860 vehicles to fill up, half of them belonging to the sheriff's office.

"We look at alternative fuels, fuel consumption,” Kuryla added.

Twenty-six percent of the fleet uses alternative fuel, such as ethanol. The county wants more hybrid cars, but they are more expensive to buy.

“As the price of fuel is going up, that is going to outweigh over the vehicle's life,” Kuryla said.

The county's sheriff's office 2007-08 budget allocated approximately $804,000 for fuel. The proposed  2008-09 budget increases that by a little over $161,000.

The City of Raleigh has almost two and half times as many vehicles as Wake County. It is trying to buy more hybrids, too.

"The problem is so many of our vehicles, whether it be firetrucks or solid waste vehicles, there is no alternative for what we have,” Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

The city expects to pay 44 percent more for gas next year. That adds up to about $1.7 million. For that amount of money, it could hire 60 to 70 more people.

“That's the equivalent of police officers that could be hired or other personnel,” Meeker said.

The county, meanwhile, is looking to spend about $300,000 more for gas next year. However, with the way gas prices are going, even those estimates could be conservative.

Overall, the county's entire budget went from about $2.02 million to $2.38 million.

"Like the average family, we are stuck paying more,” Meeker said.

Analysts say drivers should be prepared to pay $4 a gallon by next week. The average national price of gasoline Thursday was $3.83 a gallon. In the Triangle, a gallon of regular was a couple of cents less – at about $3.81.

Cary expects to pay about 30 percent more for gas next year. Some communities, like Garner, said they are breaking even on gas prices by cutting back on other things they used to do, such as leaving vehicles running when drivers were out of them.