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Gas prices pump up trouble for some budgets

POULSBO — The average driver might bemoan gas prices above $2 per gallon as a hindrance to their travel or commuting expenses.

But in the public sector, spikes in petroleum costs impact much more.

Roads, garbage service and even construction projects have recently been hit by increased costs at the pumps, said Poulsbo Public Works Facilities, Grounds and Vehicle Management Division head Dan Wilson.

“It’s going to impact our budget big time,” Wilson commented. “The gas is slowly affecting everything we do.”

According to recent numbers published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas prices in Washington have averaged between $2.23 and $2.28 per gallon in the last three weeks. While the recent trend has been that the prices may be dipping back down, they’re still nearly three-quarters higher than a year ago this time.

And at about the halfway mark of the year, the City of Poulsbo is beginning to feel the affects of the increase. As a whole, departments have only consumed about 37 percent of their appropriated fuel consumption for the year, which includes both heating and vehicle fuel. But a department-by-department look shows some doing better than others. Some of the higher expenditures to date include:

•Heating oil for all of city hall was allotted $1,435 and has spent $2,115, or 147 percent of its budget

•The sewer fund was allotted $2,000 and has spent $1,797, or 90 percent of its budget

•The street maintenance fund was allotted $2,500 and has spent $1,815, or 73 percent of its budget

•The finance department was allotted $50 and has spent $91, or 183 percent of its budget

Though the numbers to date may be bleak for some departments, Budget Analyst Deb Booher explained that departments do have the ability to move certain amounts of money within their own budgets. This means department heads can defer expenditures in another area to make up for the unexpected higher fuel prices.

“Basically, as long as the bottom line is OK, they’ll be fine,” she said.

For Public Works, Wilson said he’s worried the impact on the rest of his budget may be huge. The department runs 42 gas-powered vehicles, the largest of which, garbage trucks, get an estimated four miles to the gallon. Wilson said he’s urged cost-cutting measures like crews taking breaks in the field, rather than returning to the shop, but there are some things he can’t control.

“We’re trying to do some asphalt work, which is oil related, too. So, that will be higher,” he commented. “We went to buy plywood and the costs have gone up because the delivery charges are up. We were looking at a plumbing fixture and the dealer told us that the prices are changing week to week because of the increases in delivery charges.”

But others have been more cushioned from higher gas prices. Despite frequent driving by its 16 vehicles, Poulsbo Police Department Sgt. Bill Playter said his department has not restricted any driving activities to save gas.

“We’re just hoping that gas prices will come down soon,” he said.

On the water side, Port of Poulsbo Port Manager Ed Erhardt said he’s noticed a pretty steady trend of gas prices going down in the last week or so. He gave the example that June 1, the unbranded fuel at the marina’s pumps was $2.62 for regular and $1.88 for diesel while on June 7, it was $2.29 regular and $1.80 diesel. Unbranded fuel prices are much more volatile than branded fuel, however, Erhardt said he’s hoping the costs will continue to drop.

“I think prices are starting to subside but that trend is beyond our control,” he said.

Erhardt said despite the incredible fuel consumption of most vessels, gas prices haven’t yet seemed to impact guest visits.

“The feeling I’m getting from to make any long distance runs, so we might actually see an increase in boaters this year,” Erhardt said. “But I think people are taking it all in stride. If they planned early on going on a long vacation, I think they’re still going.”

In the last year, the Port of Poulsbo added amenities like an updated Web page, single-slip reservations by telephone and a radio frequency through which boaters can contact the moorage office. Erhardt said he feels these additions make visiting the Poulsbo marina much more attractive, even if it means a larger than normal hit to the pocketbook for fuel.to make any long distance runs, so we might actually see an increase in boaters this year,” Erhardt said. “But I think people are taking it all in stride. If they planned early on going on a long vacation, I think they’re still going.”

In the last year, the Port of Poulsbo added amenities like an updated Web page, single-slip reservations by telephone and a radio frequency through which boaters can contact the moorage office. Erhardt said he feels these additions make visiting the Poulsbo marina much more attractive, even if it means a larger than normal hit to the pocketbook for fuel.

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