Counties' fuel funds on fumes

Friday, October 14, 2005

Some area counties have already spent their entire fuel budgets with three months left in the fiscal year.

High gas prices have left area counties scrambling to find money for shrinking or diminished fuel budgets.

Jamie Burger, Scott County's 2nd district commissioner, said the sheriff and highway departments' fuel budget is completely spent.

In Bollinger County, the highway department's fuel budget was set at $83,000. County Clerk Diane Holzum said the department has already spent $85,000 with three months still left in the fiscal year. The sheriff department's fuel budget was set at $20,000, and it has already used up $22,900.

Perry County Clerk Randy Taylor said as of Sept. 30 the county had used 90 percent of its fuel budget for the sheriff's department.

"It's completely due to the high fuel costs," Burger said. "We've always been able to come close to sticking with our budgeted number, but I don't think anybody had an idea these fuel costs would be so high."

Cape Girardeau County still has funding in its fuel budget and has taken action to prevent it from drying up.

Larry Bock, 1st district associate commissioner, said the county has gas cards to buy cheap fuel at certain discounted gas stations in the area.

"From what we've found out so far, you can save anywhere from a penny to 20 cents when you fill up," he said. "That's one of the fuel saving options that we have put into effect."

The Cape Girardeau County highway department has its own fuel tanks, which the county receives for a discounted price.

"We still have funds to buy our fuel," Bock said. "We don't anticipate any problems, but we are taking measures to get discounted gas."

But other counties will have to cut back other projects to have funding for fuel.

"We're going to have to make amendments to the budget," Burger said. "Budgeting has always been kind of an estimate, but I don't think the smartest person could have predicted the high gas prices we've had."

Improvements to Scott County roads and bridges will have to wait, and the sheriff's department will be asked to conserve as much fuel as it can, Burger said.

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said his department will continue its regular patrols.

"We're not changing the way we're doing business," he said. "We're going to continue patrolling. We're not slowing down."

Scott County's highway department supervisor Harlan Duncan said major road improvements that need to be made will be made despite the fuel budget problems.

"We'll just have to make ends meet. We will do what has to be done," he said. "I don't think it will be a problem except for some of the roads we would like to be putting gravel on. We may have to hold back on that a bit."

Burger said Scott County will review the county's budget in mid-October to make amendments.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

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