BLOUNTVILLE — Everyone has been paying more for fuel, and county government — and, therefore, county taxpayers — are no different.
“It’s a dilemma,” Sullivan County’s top finance officer said last week, in reference to managing fuel costs.
Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey broached the topic with the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee. The county doesn’t yet have a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 (See related story).
Bailey said the “dilemma” has been two-pronged during the fiscal year that ended June 30: fuel costs rose — and so did consumption by some of the county’s biggest users of fuel.
“We can’t continue to grow in both directions, in gallons and in price,” Bailey said. “It’s money gone. It makes everyone’s budget tighter.”
County departments were asked to submit funding requests for the fiscal year that began July 1 several months ago.
Fuel costs have risen dramatically since those requests were submitted, Bailey said, making the figures well out of date.
And there’s no preferred method for calculating how much fuel a department will use in a given year, Bailey said.
In trying to estimate how much they’d need to budget for fuel for this year, department heads “were all over the place,” not using a common method to calculate the figure, Bailey said.
There needs to be some comprehensive plan put in place to estimate fuel costs, Bailey said, and a goal of reducing the number of gallons being used when talking about reducing or holding costs.
Bailey gave Budget Committee members a report outlining fuel use by each county department and/or operation for the 12-month fiscal year that ended June 30.
According to that report:
•For the fiscal year that ended June 30, Sullivan County’s total fuel bill was nearly $1.23 million.
•That was for 450,729 gallons of fuel, including both diesel and gasoline.
•Most of the fuel — more than 429,000 gallons — was consumed by nine departments or operations.
•And those nine departments or operations used more gallons of gas in fiscal year 2008 than they did in fiscal year 2007. Seven percent more, with an increased cost of 41 percent.
•The Sullivan County Highway Department was by far the biggest user among county departments — at nearly 166,300 gallons, billed at more than $462,000 (of the nearly $1.23 million total the county spent on fuel in fiscal year 2008).
•The sheriff’s office was second in fuel usage for fiscal year 2008, at about 145,500 gallons used and total billing of about $376,000.
•The county’s Sanitation Department was next up, with just over 49,000 gallons used and total billing of over $142,200.
•The county’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) was close behind the Sanitation Department’s fuel usage for the year, at 44,560 gallons used and total billing of $128,116.
•Jail operations used 15,639 gallons, with total billing of $40,814.
•The Sullivan County Property Assessor’s office used 6,559 gallons, with total billing of about $17,000.
•Animal Control operations used 5,145 gallons, with total billing of about $13,400.
•County Buildings operations used 3,936 gallons, with total billing of $10,139.
•The Sullivan County Regional Health Department used 3,143 gallons, with total billing of $8,118.
•Construction Oversight used 2,362 gallons, with total billing of $6,533.
•Observation Knob Park operations used 2,142 gallons, with total billing of about $5,700.
•The county’s planning and zoning office used 1,816 gallons, with total billing of about $4,800.
•The county coroner used 1,327 gallons, with total billing of $3,612.
•The Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) used 1,155 gallons, with total billing of $3,166.
•The county’s mail distribution system used 780 gallons, with total billing of $2,053.
•County Mayor Steve Godsey used 695 gallons of county-paid gas in fiscal year 2008, with total billed charges of $1,773. Godsey drives a county-provided 2007 Mercury Montego.
That car is among 548 currently listed as in use by county departments and insured by the county, according to a vehicle inventory Bailey distributed to Budget Committee members.
A “work in progress” listing obtained by the Times-News from the county’s accounting department last month showed Sullivan County’s various departments owned more than 630 vehicles.
At the time, Bailey said that list wasn’t an absolute count of county-owned vehicles, but was based in part on insurance records and initial lists from each department regarding items identified as surplus for a county auction.
Bailey said that during fiscal year 2008, the county paid an average of 50 cents more per gallon for fuel than it did in fiscal year 2007 — and that for the most recent monthly billing cycle, the average price per gallon had jumped another $1.
For example, fuel used by the Sheriff’s Department in fiscal year 2008 cost an average of $2.58 per gallon for fuel during fiscal year 2008 — up from an average of $2.08 per gallon in fiscal year 2007. But for the most recent monthly billing cycle, the average cost per gallon was $3.53.
If that price holds, or increases, the county’s spending for fuel could increase another $500,000 in the next 12 months, Bailey said.
The departmental usage figures above do not include certain additional purchases of fuel by other county credit cards, personal reimbursements, etc., which totaled $4,370 during fiscal year 2008, according to the report from Bailey’s office.