Gas prices forcing conservation City, county, schools feeling squeeze, making plans

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, March 3, 2011

Soaring gasoline prices are forcing local governments to push drivers to conserve.

“We’re asking all of our department heads to … tighten their belts,” Mayor Paul Winfield said.

Gas prices in Vicksburg, hovering at $3.56 per gallon in the past three days, are among the highest in the state, where the average was $3.37 this morning, up about 22 cents in a week. Pumps in Vicksburg have seen an increase of about 30 cents in the same week.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Nationwide, prices are averaging $3.43 per gallon, up from $3.11 a month ago and $2.70 per gallon a year ago, according to

Current gas prices are comparable to those in 2008, when prices surged to nearly $4 per gallon across the country.

This time around, local officials said they had not expected a substantial increase in such a short period of time.

“When we did the budget last year, we budgeted for about a 10 to 15 percent increase in fuel prices,” said Warren County Administrator John Smith.

Fuel for city, county and public school operations usually is purchased through a state contract, and that price is usually about 20 cents less than pump costs.

“I’m not going to wait 6 months to address the situation,” City Accountant Doug Whittington said. “We’re telling people now to start conserving. I am looking at this big jump in prices from this past weekend and the fact that prices will be about $4.50 by Memorial Day is not far-fetched.”

The City of Vicksburg fuels about 356 vehicles and about 75 other gasoline-powered machines. The city has allocated $578,760 of its $31.5 million budget this fiscal year for fuel and diesel, Whittington said, adding budgets are based on historical data and the allocation was figured at a rate of about $2.70 per gallon and allowing for a 15 percent increase.

He said the police department, which patrols about 33 miles, has about $200,000 budgeted for fuel, followed by the street department with $100,000. Ambulance, sewer mains, fire and right of way departments each has about $45,000 budgeted.

About $445,000 of Warren County’s $14.5 million budget is for fuel and diesel, Smith said.

The county’s biggest fuel consumers are the road department, $300,000, and the sheriff’s office, with $145,000, Smith said.

“The fear of rising gas prices is a concern,” he said. “We look at gas, and it’s always volatile.”

The sheriff’s office has 36 vehicles and five limited-use vehicles, and it had spent about $55,898.91 from the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year to Feb. 7, Smith said.

“We are encouraging reasonable downtime,” Sheriff Martin Pace said, adding that deputies patrol a 600-mile radius.

Whittington and Smith both said additional fuel money will be taken from less-used accounts if the allotted funds run out.

The Vicksburg Warren School District is feeling the pinch, too, and also plans to skim from other funds if it exceeds its $576,875 account that fuels 137 buses and 22 other vehicles.

“We always factor in increases,” said Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford, who inherited the district’s nearly $80 million budget when she took office in August. “It kind of averages out. It won’t break our budget.”

So far, the school district has spent $439,673 in fuel since the beginning of the district’s fiscal year, July 1, Assistant Superintendent Debra Hullum said. Last year, the district spent $609,868, she said.

Numbers for NRoute, the city and county’s public bus system, were not available.