Rising fuel prices are impacting local departments

Dana C. Silano

Gas prices have, in recent years, been a matter of where people go and what they do. With the average price of gas continually creeping up and threatening to jump to $4 per gallon, it is no wonder that a joyride, traveling distances to shop or even visiting family are less of a thrill and more of a planned finance.

However, municipal departments such as the Department of Public Works and the police and fire departments in your community do not have the choice.

Although many communities, such as the villages of Dolgeville and St. Johnsville and the city of Little Falls use bulk gas for municipal vehicles, that does not mean cost does not affect their budgets. According to Little Falls City Treasurer Dave Petkovsek, budgets for the city’s DPW and police and fire departments are expected to be raised about 30 percent.

“As far as 2007 is concerned,” said Petkovsek, “we ended up over-expending for fuel for our vehicles in each department. Of course, we haven’t really started going through the budget, so these are preliminary numbers, but each of those departments will probably go up about 25 percent from what we budgeted for 2007. For police and fire last year, this was about $12,000 and for the DPW it was about $50,000.”

As far as 2008 is concerned, Petkovsek said, the DPW alone can expect about $100,000 for fuel, without looking at set numbers yet.

The city must also take into consideration fuel to heat city hall, fuel for street lights and to run the water filtration plant and fuel for the police and fire department fleets. “The price of gas is going to be a major impact on the 2008 budget,” said Petkovsek.

Snow is not planned in the sense a visit to your grandparents’ house in Syracuse is. Although predicted, there is no choice whether or not the DPW will plow the streets to make them safe and passable.

Supervisor of Public Works Rick Zilkowski said that creeping gas prices will affect the department as long as they continue to rise.

“I’m anticipating at least a 30 percent higher amount of use for fuel, which includes propane, diesel and gasoline and also a minimum of at least 10 percent with National Grid,” he said. “Just the increases alone should amount to $150,000 to $180,000. We have to anticipate increased cost in petroleum-based products, along with surcharges for deliveries of salt and parts. The preliminary numbers are just for the cost of fuel, but the domino effects are going to be drastic.”

Zilkowski said you can not average the price of gas per week for the DPW.

For the month of December, fuel costs were astronomical, but January has not been so bad, so far. “This the largest one year increase since I’ve been here in this position,” he said. “We’re service-oriented, so in order to keep our services going the way our constituents are used to, we have to continue. We’ll continue to run the way we’re used to running it.”

Little Falls Fire Chief Robert Parese said that the cost of gas is increasing, but that it does not affect daily operations between the ambulances and fire engines. “All the vehicles except the chief’s car run on diesel fuel,” he said, adding that the fire department fuels up at the DPW garage. “The cost is the same to us as the rest of the city. Our ambulances run a lot more than the fire trucks, so they use more fuel.”

Assistant Chief Michael Masi, of the Little Falls Police Department, agreed that, because the police department fuels its vehicles at the garage, the cost is the same to them. “The city buys bulk gas,” he said. “We operate two patrol cars 24 hours a day. Unless they are out at the station, they’re running consistently. The average miles used per 12 hour shift is 80 to 85 miles, depending on call loads.”

Masi said there are two 12-hour shifts per day, and three cars are in rotation for patrol in the four-car fleet.

The fourth vehicle, the older Ford Expedition, has been assigned to evidence crime scenes, so it is not used routinely.

“It’s only used by the sergeant assigned to an investigation, and whenever there is a crime scene needing equipment,” Masi said.

Dolgeville Police Chief Howard Lanphier said that they have been saving the village money for a few years.

“When we bought the [Chevrolet] Impalas a few years ago, we tried to come up with a mileage cap that was flexible depending on calls,” he said. ‘It keeps mileage down each day, in addition to the fact that the Impalas were better on gas than he Fords we previously had.”

There are three cars currently on Dolgeville’s fleet of police patrol vehicles. Two of them are Impalas and the third is one of the old Fords.

The chief said the newer vehicles are used 90 percent of the time.

“The [new cars] have been working well for us so far,” Lanphier said. “When fuel prices went up, we had already been saving the village money.”

Dolgeville Mayor Bruce Lyon said that between the wastewater treatment plant, the village DPW garage and the police, several departments have requested an increase in budgeted funds for fuel.

“With fuel prices going up,” he said, “we just have to figure in extra money. It’s a never-ending battle.”

Dolgeville’s DPW put in for a 10 percent increase for fuel in the budget, but probably will exceed that cost, said Supervisor Paul Nagle.

“We have to do what we have to do, though,” he said. “From last year to this year, fuel consumption was about the same, but the cost was significantly higher.” Price per gallon is about 30 cents higher throughout the year for bulk fuel, he said.

“It hasn’t really affected daily operations,” said Nagle, “but we’ll be way over our budget. We’re already over $10,000 at this point this year and I’m at a critical stage of going over my budget of $14,000 [for fuel]. We’ll probably be about 25 percent over.”

In St. Johnsville, Supervisor of Public Works Chris Weaver said during a snow storm it is not uncommon to fill a vehicle up twice in the same day, especially with three trucks in use for plowing the village. “It depends on what activities are going on,” he said. “Usually, on a day when it isn’t snowing, a truck can run about two days on a full tank for normal running around in the department.”

The village has several fuel-running equipment such as a snow blower, a Bobcat with a snow blower attached to it, a sidewalk snow blower and a backhoe loader. “In last year’s budget, we raised the cost of fuel up a lot because of the jump in price, and I’m sure this year is going to be the same,” he said. “It’s not just fuel for the vehicles, but even to heat the garage is costly.”

The price of steel also has gone up and that adds to the budget figures. Weaver said he expects steel prices should double by next year. This is partially attributed to the cost of fuel to ship and transport such items.

St. Johnsville has yet to begin their budget, but Village Clerk/Treasurer Karen Crouse said she definitely plans to see the cost go up, including the cost for electricity in the village.

In order to minimize costs, departments in area communities are trying to save on energy and fuel by keeping heat down as best as they can in public buildings. The Little Falls DPW is trying to use the smaller trucks in their fleet, such as pickup trucks, whenever possible and continuing their lease program in an effort to keep fuel costs down. They are using two smaller plow trucks as well.

According to the Energy Information Administration, prices in New York state have not fluctuated much in the past two months.

As of November 26, 2007, prices for conventional, mid-grade and premium gas were averaging $3.26, $3.39 and $3.50 per gallon.

On Monday, they were $3.29, $3.42 and $3.53 per gallon. In between, they ranged, but only up and down by about three cents.

WTRG Economics reported Monday crude oil was priced at about $94.20 per barrel. On January 3, the price per barrel was about $58.