North End agencies are not surprised by gas sticker shock

Increasing gas prices aren’t just creating black holes in citizens’ pocketbooks but also in the budgets of local and county agencies.

County and fire departments as well as ports and tourism bureaus are just some of the fuel-dependent groups that will be affected by rising gas costs this year, if they have not been already. However, regardless of costs, officials at each said the costs won’t deter them from providing the quality of service the public has come to expect.

While fire officials considered the potential for fuel cost increases when they compiled their 2004 budgets, they are still seeing some impacts.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue Public Information Officer Michéle Laboda said the agency normally prepares for the worst case scenarios.

For 2004, $27,000 was budgeted for fuel costs and $14,078.38 has been spent so far. The department’s apparatus includes about 13 engines, aid cars, tenders and a boat. NKF&R’s engines average about 4.5 miles to the gallon, but they are also often idling at incident scenes to provide power for the trucks’ equipment.

Fire Chief Jim Shields of the Poulsbo Fire Department said the agency accounted for increased fuel prices during its budget process last year for 2004.

“Although we did not expect to see such a high increase in fuel prices, our budget process will allow us to account for overage in that category,” he said.

To date, the agency has expended 56 percent of its budget in the fuel category, he said, with $22,000 budgeted and $12,250 already spent.

If there is an overage in the 2004 budgets, the agency will be able to accommodate the difference by using operation reserves, Shields added.

PFD’s fleet includes 17 engines, medic units, brush trucks, tenders, a boat and rescue unit. Its engines average six to 10 miles per gallon.

Both department officials pointed out that despite fuel increases, the level of service will not be affected.

As for the Port of Kingston, Port Manager Tom Berry said the port’s actual costs won’t be impacted as much as the budgets of boaters who will be visiting the Little City By The Sea.

The port was pumping out $1.96 a gallon for diesel on June 2, one of the better prices in the area, Berry said. But regardless of who has the best prices, fuel will still burn at the same rate and that will be a major consideration in how far people will travel in their vessel this season, he added.

“People are going to tend to make shorter trips,” Berry said.

Kitsap’s own tourism agency is also keeping an eye on how the gouging prices will effect road trippers.

Executive Director of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitors and Convention Bureau Grant Griffin said prices will definitely have an impact on drivers this summer, especially those who tend to visit Kitsap from surrounding counties.

“It will have an effect, no doubt about it,” he said.

However, from a local standpoint, residents may think twice about traveling outside the county as well and, hopefully, shop closer to home, he said.

Because the VCB’s budget is based on the county’s intake of hotel/motel taxes, if fewer people stay in hotels, the bureau’s income will be impacted, Griffin said. The agency’s employees will most likely attend fewer conferences and conventions and use their vehicles more sparingly but will continue to market throughout the area, he added.

Kitsap County Public Works information specialist Doug Bear said fuel prices aren’t having a huge impact on the county government. While county department heads budgeted for increased costs this year, they are keeping a careful eye on how the budget is being spent, he said.

“When you are taking taxpayers’ money, you have try and stay ahead and be on the conservative side of spending,” he said. “It wasn’t totally unseen. It’s been known that gas prices are going to creep up.”

The county contracts out for gas through Reinhard Petroleum, Pacific Northwest Energy and Cooper’s Fuel to gas up its fleet of 480 vehicles. Having a contract helps keep the high fuel prices relatively low for the fleet, Bear said. The most recent price the county paid is $1.71 a gallon.

While the impact may not hit the county as much as a local fire truck going to a nearby retail gas station, officials are keeping an eye on ways to efficiently use the vehicles. Instead of sending a truck to four different job sites all over the county, Bear said the plan includes utilizing a truck in one area and keeping the driving distance to a minimum.

“You look for efficiencies in how you use your equipment, like you do at home,” Bear said.

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