Emergency responders budgeting for rising fuel costs

Argen Duncan

With rising fuel prices, local emergency response agencies are working to be efficient without cutting services.

Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Malin Parker, Portales Police Chief Jeff Gill and Portales Fire Chief Gary Nuckols said they are budgeting more for fuel in the upcoming fiscal year, but cutting patrols or emergency response is not an option.

Gill said he expects to see gas over $4 per gallon by July. He anticipates a 30 percent increase in gas prices next fiscal year from the $80,000 he budgeted this year.

“It’s an essential element we have to have to perform our job,” he said.

Parker said the sheriff’s office budgeted about $40,000 for gas for the entire fleet of 19 vehicles this year, but had to have the Roosevelt County Commission adjust the budget to accommodate another $18,000 in fuel to finish the fiscal year due to increasing prices. Next fiscal year’s sheriff’s office budget includes an increase for fuel costs.

“We cannot cut back on our patrols,” Parker said. “That’s something we don’t feel like is really an option.”

Parker said taxpayers pay deputies to patrol, and with the office already battling theft, decreasing patrols would hurt.

Nuckols has budgeted about a 20 percent increase in next fiscal year’s fuel budget based on projections for increased gas prices.

“I hope we come in under,” he said. “But that’s just kind of a safety net for increases in fuel prices in the next fiscal year.”

Nuckols said employees try to minimize the time they spend running errands such as picking up supplies and turn off vehicles instead of idling when they can. Ambulances and fire trucks will run as usual, he said.

“It’s a tough situation. We have to continue operations as normal and respond to every call, so we’re going to use the fuel at any cost,” Nuckols said.

For the sheriff’s office, Parker said, sometimes the Roosevelt County Commission can help with fuel expenses. Other times the money comes out of the detention center budget or line items such as equipment replacement.

Many of the deputies drive pickups or sport utility vehicles because high clearance and four-wheel drive are necessary to handle deep sand and snowy, muddy or unmaintained roads they encounter. A hybrid vehicle costs $10,000 to $7,000 more than a traditional model, Parker said.

Sheriff’s office employees use smaller, more fuel-efficient cars for long trips, he said, and buying fuel in bulk has been discussed.

To buy gas in bulk at a savings, the office would need its own fueling facilities. Also, Parker said employees usually fill up in the same place, but not if they’re traveling to transport inmates or attend training.

The police department has about 30 vehicles. When buying vehicles, Gill said, the department has switched from eight-cylinder patrol cars to six-cylinder models and purchased four-cylinder administrative vehicles.

Officers are asked to turn off their cars when it’s practical, and supervisors monitor other employees to encourage fuel-efficient driving, he said. Gill also cut out-of-town training trips.

Gas is a concern, he said, but the department is prepared for it.

“You just try to be as fuel-efficient as possible and get the job done,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the job has to be done.”