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Gas prices start to hit the budget
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Business as usual is getting expensive now that the average price for gas has risen to more than $4 per gallon nationwide.

Bryan County is quickly approaching that, with an average of $3.95 per gallon on Tuesday.

County Administrator Phil Jones said the cost of gas has impacted Bryan County’s current budget – and will likely require nearly $170,000 extra dollars for the next fiscal year’s energy budget.

"I just finished the first quarter analysis and right now, our spending on fuel is up about 10 percent. If that continues with the same trend, it will be up about 30 percent before the end of this fiscal year," Jones said. "We’ll have to increase the budget by $168-$169,000 to compensate for fuel next year – which actually is not that dramatic – it sounds a lot worse that it really is. When you’re dealing with a budget of $15 million, that’s not a significant increase."

Jones said the county’s energy budget was about $480,000 for the 2008 Fiscal Year.

"We’re looking at some alternative strategies to cut down on daily driving and save some money there, so that’s the biggest change for next year," he said.

Municipalities are also looking at alternatives to help cut down gas mileage and save in energy costs wherever possible.

Pembroke City Clerk Betty Hill said the city considered what gas prices might do this year and budgeted accordingly.

"So far this year, we’re on track because we had estimated an increase in gas prices. We looked at it the other day and we are on track," she said, noting they have a budget of about $76,000. "Next year, if we’re budgeting wisely, that line-item will go up."

Hill said most city employees live locally, so cutting down on mileage there isn’t really an issue, but she did say Pembroke Police Chief Bill Collins has been encouraging his officers not to ride around quite as much, without risking community security.

Richmond Hill Financial Advisor Bob Whitmarsh said the city is definitely concerned about the impact, but doesn’t have any recent budget information right now.

"We’ve been monitoring the impact of gas prices and we should have our April budget data coming in, with four months of information, which will let us see exactly how it’s impacted the budget," he said.

Whitmarsh said the city budgeted $106,585 for energy this year and, while all of the city departments have been working to minimize usage, he thinks they will exceed that number – but "hopefully not by much."

"We’re going to have to absorb it. The Richmond Hill Police Department has gotten some motorcycles to help reduce gas mileage," he said. "Wherever we can economize, we are doing so. But it may be a problem down the road. We’ll have to address it, and wherever we can save in our departments we will try to. The impact has not been acutely felt yet – but we feel that line-item will go over and we’ll have to see where we can go down next year."

Whitmarsh said city budget data should be available by the next city council meeting, scheduled for June 17 at 7 p.m.

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