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.
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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 GasBuddy.com.
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.