Soaring fuel prices put the pinch on local governments
By RANDALL DICKERSON
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Grant Ward, the transportation director for the Jackson-Madison County schools, gets a weekly reminder of the strain on his budget.
Ward opens bids for diesel fuel, submitted by eight suppliers who want the district’s business in the week ahead.
The low bidder will pump 10,000 gallons of fuel into the district’s tanks. It will last four to five days.
“We increased our budget on diesel 20 percent next year,” Ward said. “We’re going from about $950,000 to $1.23 million. You’ve got to get the kids there (to school). With 520 square miles to cover, it’s a big concern.”
Ward’s problem is mirrored across the state as schools, local highway departments, police agencies, ambulance services and other government services struggle to pay the rising cost of fuel.
In Cheatham County, just west of Nashville, Schools Director Lynn Seifert said the spiraling cost of fuel couldn’t be anticipated for the current budget year and the schools will need between $25,000 and $35,000 in added funding to finish out the school year.
In Williamson County, the school board has asked the county commission to let it dip into the schools’ fund balance for $250,000 more to buy fuel.
The rising fuel costs are having another effect as well — more students taking the bus.
Sumner County schools transportation director Larry Riggsbee said buses are now transporting extra riders who previously were driven to school by parents or who drove their own cars.
The Murfreesboro City Schools get their fuel under a citywide contract that obtains it at a set price.
Bill Devault, chairman of the Rhea County Board of Education in Dayton, said the cost of diesel fuel has risen more than $1 a gallon in a year.
“Before the end of the year, it looks like we’re going to really be in a hole,” Devault said.
A switch to biodiesel by the city of Chattanooga was intended to save money and improve air quality. The city may be in a better position because of it, even though its fuel costs are also rising.
City fleet manager Brian Kiesche said going to a blend of 80 percent petroleum and 20 percent biodiesel, made from non-petroleum products, was expected to save the city between 25 cents and 50 cents per gallon.
The fuel is used in trash trucks, dump trucks and heavy equipment.
On the southern Cumberland Plateau, a project begun a year ago as a way to spark student interest in alternative fuels might help stretch the fuel budget, if only fractionally.
Grundy County schools transportation director Trey Foster said by year’s end, some students could be riding a standby bus powered by biofuel produced by students in the high school’s vocational program.
The district’s diesel cost was up to more than $3.50 a gallon and Foster said the biofuel cost about $1 a gallon to produce.
Meanwhile, local government agencies are trying to save as much fuel as possible.
Most have not cut out field trips, but drivers are being asked to economize wherever possible.
“Anytime we can, we kill the engine. We’re not going to leave it idling,” said Ward, who added there is no personal use of the buses, which get about 7 miles per gallon.
“We just try to manage it the best way we can and use fuel wisely,” Ward said.
Published in The Messenger 5.5.08