Troubled by high gas prices? It’s costing you in tax dollars, too, as state agencies have to spend more of their budgets on fuel. The state’s transportation department operates a fleet of two-Thousand vehicles, and the cars, trucks and snowplows burn a million and-a-half gallons of gasoline a year as well as two-Million gallons of diesel fuel, which has risen in price even faster than gas. Nancy Richardson is D-O-T Operations and Finance Director. She says nobody was able to predict these kinds of increases. Richardson says her agency spent nearly a million dollars more on fuel this fiscal year than it did a couple years back. And though the agency can delay or offset spikes in the price by buying fuel in bulk, it catches up in other ways. Transportation-sensitive items they buy like salt and sand have to be trucked in from other states, and other products like road crack sealant and plastic materials are made from petroleum. The DOT never knows how bad a winter will be, so it’s used to budget fluctuations…but if prices remain high and next winter’s severe, Richardson says her agency may have to ask for a mid-year funding increase from the legislature. The state patrol’s budget figures a dollar-32 a gallon for gas this year, and with prices at a dollar-89 right now, Colonel Robert Garrison says there’s no cushion in the budget. People’ cars and gasoline are mainstays of the agency, he says, and “People are short, cars are old, and gas prices are going’ up.” Colonel Garrison faced a similar problem in 2002, and ordered troopers to park their squad cars twice a day to save on gas. Money saved, which might have made up for cuts in car-equipment spending, instead was transferred to other agencies according to garrison, who’s in no hurry to take the same tactic again this year. We still don’t have the number of troopers back up to where it was before 2002, he says, so they have to stay visible and keep cars running and if they run out of gas money will ask transportation commissioners to take a request to the governor’s office or the legislature. Colonel garrison says the legislature gave the state patrol a little extra money next year to hire a few more troopers, but he says if gas prices don’t go down, they may have to spend the money on fuel. At the DNR, spokesman Kevin Baskins says a couple game wardens parked to carpool to a meeting, only to hear complaints from taxpayers who saw their state cars in a restaurant parking lot and assumed they’d spent the day idling over coffee inside.
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