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Politics of the pump

Governments, schools deal with fuel prices

Governments, schools deal with fuel prices

August 19, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

Motorists aren't the only ones feeling an economic pinch at the pumps.

Officials for the City of Hagerstown, Washington County Public Schools and the county all reported the cost of driving public vehicles, such as school buses and Sheriff's Department cruisers, has gone up.

"We are anticipating, based on what's happened so far, we may not have budgeted enough for gasoline," said Alfred Martin, the finance director for the City of Hagerstown.

According to Martin, the city spent about $300,000 for fuel the past two fiscal years. Since the beginning of the 2005-06 fiscal year July 1, the city's fuel costs have gone up 20 percent, Martin said. At that rate, the city will spend $60,000 more on gasoline this year than it did last year. It only budgeted for an increase of about $8,000, Martin said Thursday.

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To siphon off some savings, the county, school system and city bid cooperatively on gasoline, said Martin and Debra Murray, county director of budget and finance.

According to Murray, the county budgeted for diesel fuel costs in the range of $1.68 to 1.99 per gallon and gasoline prices in the range of $1.72 to 1.92 per gallon. The prices vary according to the octane of fuel and how it's delivered, Murray said Thursday.

According to recent invoices, the county spent $1.67 per gallon for gasoline and $1.75 per gallon for diesel, Murray said.

"As of the end of July, we still feel we're within the budgeted range," Murray said.

Neither Murray nor Martin were sure how many miles the city and county vehicles rack up each year.

The schools' big driving season hasn't begun yet. Almost 17,000 students travel back and forth to school during the school year, and school buses and other vehicles rack up more than 2.5 million miles a year, according to the system's Web site.

According to Transportation Director Chris Carter, the school system has received just one delivery of fuel since the fiscal year began.

Carter, Murray and Martin all said managers in the departments that use fuel will monitor prices and make budget adjustments as they go.

According to Carter, fuel prices hit a "very critical stage" last year before leveling off. He said he isn't sure how high prices can go before the system would have to make adjustments in other areas.

"Our No. 1 priority is to get children to and from school," Carter said. Other areas or services could be cut if gas prices continue to rise, he said.

Carter said in figuring how much to budget for fuel, the school system usually plans on spending about 3 percent more per year.

"We typically use a 3 percent factor, but that probably won't be enough if things keep going the way they're going," Carter said.

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