Fuel costs are draining city's funds

By Bryan Dean Published: May 30, 2006
But higher-than-usual sales tax revenues help to ease budget worries.

Higher gas prices will cost Oklahoma City at least $800,000 next year -- enough to repave more than three miles of two-lane asphalt roads or build nearly 10 park playgrounds or hire 20 animal welfare officers.

Transit system hit hard by fuel costs

In a year when Oklahoma City won't have to cut budgets for the first time in more than a decade, fuel prices are cutting into record sales tax revenues that might have let the city expand services.

Budget Director Craig Freeman said the city budgeted about $5 million for gas in the coming fiscal year, and that may not be enough. City officials came up with that number before the recent surge in gas prices.

The city gets a wholesale rate on gas and doesn't have to pay taxes, but Freeman said fuel could end up costing far more than the $1.90 per gallon the city expected.

"Right now where we are, we are well above that," Freeman said. "If we continue at the same rate we're at right now, we are going to be under-budgeted."

Freeman said the city will likely use its contingency funds, often used to pay for unforeseen utility increases or other such costs, to pay for higher-than-expected gas prices.

Cutting back isn't an option for most departments
Neighborhood Services Director Mike Randall, whose department includes code enforcement and animal welfare, said he's asked code inspectors to plan ahead when responding to rural code violation complaints and make fewer trips.

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What $800,000 could buy

What could the city pay for if not for the $800,000 increase in fuel prices factored into next year's budget?

  • Park playgrounds: Eight at $90,000 each

  • Street repaving: Three miles at $250,000 per mile for two lanes of asphalt with curbs and gutters

  • Animal welfare officers: Twenty at $39,000 for salary and benefits

  • Spray parks: Three at $250,000 each

  • Police officers (entry-level): Thirteen at $57,806 for salary and benefits

    What other metro cities are doing

    An additional $235,000 has been approved to buy fuel and natural gas for the remainder of the fiscal year in Edmond. City officials aren't planning any cutbacks on services.

    With a population of about 5,000, high gasoline prices have hit hard, City Manager Richard Reynolds said.

    About two months ago, in an effort to save gasoline, police officers started riding two to a patrol car.

    Reynolds asked the fire department to cut back on making public relations appearances with fire engines and ambulances due to the cost of fuel.

    Kingfisher had an $89,800 fuel budget for the current fiscal year, and the next fiscal year fuel budget is $96,300, a 7 percent increase.

    The city, with a population of about 40,000, has been able to make up for the cost by transferring from other funds, City Manager Steve Eddy said.

    Moore's sales tax revenue has been strong enough this year to offset the rising fuel costs, he said. But the budget for fuel for police, fire and sanitation was not enough to get through the fiscal year, Eddy said. The budget for the coming fiscal year is higher.

    The fuel budget was supposed to be $145,500 for the current fiscal year, but the city had spent $249,809 as of May 23, Eddy said. For the next fiscal year, the fuel budget is approved for $246,000, Eddy said.

    The city is roughly $600,000 over budget for fuel costs this fiscal year, city spokesman Scott Martin said.

    In addition to trying to find the money to cover this year's deficit, the city is trying to increase the budget for next fiscal year.

    Martin said employees are taking measures to conserve fuel, such as not driving city vehicles back and forth as much, and not letting vehicles idle.

    The Village
    City Manager Bruce Stone said the city is expecting at least $5,000 more to be spent on fuel and petroleum products for fiscal year 2006-2007.

    City vehicles use about 2,000 gallons of gasoline a month.

    Warr Acres
    The city budgeted $80,000 for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The projected fuel cost for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $150,000.

    Due to fuel costs, the city no longer allows police officers who don't live within the city limits to take patrol cars home overnight.

    City Manager Jim Crosby said the city of about 25,000 people had a fuel budget of $180,000 this fiscal year. Next year, the budget is $275,000.

    By Tami Althoff, Diana Baldwin and Robert Medley

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