Kingsport looks to cut fuel use

Matthew Lane • Jul 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — With fuel prices hovering around the $4-a-gallon mark, City Manager John Campbell has requested a 5 percent reduction in fuel consumption for the next fiscal year, potentially saving the city more than $90,000.

The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen received a report Monday afternoon on the city’s fuel usage, how much is spent yearly on gasoline and biodiesel, and what the city does (and shouldn’t do) to reduce the cost of fuel.

Kingsport uses just under 500,000 gallons of fuel a year for its fleet of 748 pieces of powered and non-powered equipment, which includes school buses, police cruisers, fire trucks, mowers and trailers.

The city’s transportation department is estimating fuel costs will be more than $1.8 million next fiscal year; last year fuel costs were $1.37 million. In 2004, the city spent $490,000 on fuel, and 10 years ago the cost was $238,000. Over the past 10 years the city has used between 450,000 to 513,000 gallons of fuel each year.

Over the past year alone, Kingsport has seen its fuel expenses rise 52 percent for gasoline and 83 percent for diesel.

Two years ago to help combat rising fuel prices, the city implemented a 10 percent fuel reduction initiative, switched from premium unleaded fuel to regular, and purchased three hybrid vehicles with plans to purchase 12 more. The estimated savings on these vehicles is nearly $32,000 annually.

City departments have taken other measures to reduce fuel usage, including reducing or combining certain trips, reducing or stopping unnecessary engine idling, carpooling and fleet reduction.

The Kingsport Area Transit Service has reworked its routes to be more efficient and is purchasing smaller buses that get better mileage, and the public works department is looking at its garbage and recycling routes to see where it can tighten up.

The Model City is also working to go more green, switching its diesel fleet over to biodiesel, purchasing more hybrid vehicles, and implementing energy-saving steps at several city buildings.

According to the fuel usage report, over the past three years the city’s sewer department has reduced its fuel usage by 11 percent, the police department by 5.9 percent, and the fire department by 5 percent.

“We’re thinking of every little way to save fuel, and we’re pushing these departments to reduce their fuel usage,” said Steve Hightower, fleet maintenance manager for the city.

Campbell has requested a 5 percent reduction in fuel consumption for the 2009 fiscal year — 25,225 gallons of fuel, $91,944 at $3.65 per gallon. This amounts to 51 gallons per month per department.

Hightower said city department must continue to search for new, innovative ways to reduce fuel consumption but should not simply throw money at the problem or use gadgets or chemicals that claim fuel savings.

“If we do it, we want to be sure it’s the right way to go,” Hightower said.

The issue at hand for the BMA is weighing the need of controlling the cost of fuel against the level of services offered by the city.

“It’s a situation of evaluating processes to do as the board has requested and still not let it impact the level of services provided,” Hightower said.

Mayor Dennis Phillips has requested a study on trash pickup and whether it could be done by request, and the city’s building department has localized its inspection depending on the area of town.

“The citizen might have to wait a day or two, but they still get the inspection in a reasonable period of time,” Hightower said.

“(The BMA) can’t be insisting you cut down on fuel and at the same time when everyone calls us, we go fussing at you,” Phillips said. “It’s going to be a very difficult time over the next few years adjusting to these fuel prices.”

“My horses aren’t looking so bad,” said Alderwoman Valerie Joh.

Alderman Ken Marsh asked why the city is not using diesel, since biodiesel is more expensive. Hightower said biodiesel is the environmental push right now, and it helps with the city’s green initiative.

“It costs more to be green,” Hightower said. “And it has to be done methodically and with study.”

Marsh also commented on the use of hybrids, saying hybrid vehicles sound good, but they may or may not be an economically sound decision.

Earlier this year, Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds issued a report that found with gas prices high and on the rise, using hybrid vehicles would be advantageous for Kingsport.

McReynolds’ report found the hybrid vehicle costs about $7,500 more than a standard, but if fuel prices only rise 1.4 percent over the next 10 years (the useful life of the vehicle), then the fuel savings would offset that amount.

City staff plan to return to the BMA in October and report on fuel usage during the first quarter of the 2009 fiscal year, which will include the months of July, August and September.

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