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Gallons down, dollars up for police

Gainesville officers walked the beat more, but high gasoline costs ate up the savings

POSTED: July 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper applauded his officers last week for their fuel conservation efforts, and he had every right to.

Last month, the 103-vehicle department had used only 91 percent of the gasoline it had used at the same point last year due to a new approach to policing that requires officers to get out of their cars more and rely on fuel less.

In the face of rising fuel prices and budget constraints, Hooper began encouraging his officers to park or be out of their cars at least 15 minutes of every hour, he said.

And instead of riding back and forth through high-crime areas, police officers now park in one visible section of that area, Hooper said.

Officers walk, instead of ride, through business areas.

Officers take fuel conservation seriously because they know if the department has to spend more money on fuel, there will be fewer dollars available for training and equipment, Hooper said.

Officers still need their cars; they are just changing the way they utilize them, Hooper said.

"It’s just really kind of a rethinking of how we do business," he said.

Hooper says the new way of policing — with fewer cars on the road — has a positive instead of negative effect on the city’s overall public safety.

"It really gets folks out there communicating with the public," Hooper said. "I think it helps them do their jobs better."

City Manager Bryan Shuler said he asked the heads of all city departments — not just police — to set a goal to reduce fuel consumption by 10 percent.

The police department’s efforts to conserve are evidenced by a near 1,000-gallon decrease in consumption in June compared to June 2007, said Dean Martin, vehicle services manager for the city.

However, the cost of fuel keeps those efforts from actually paying off. Despite the reduction in fuel use, the department spent more than $31,000 on fuel in June — a near $6,000 increase in fuel expenses over June 2007, according to Martin.

"As you can see, the gallons went down, but the dollars went up," Martin said.

Even with conservation measures, the price of gas continues to pose a threat to the city’s budget, Shuler said.

"The price is still a concern, because it’s so much higher than when we started the calendar year," Shuler said. "Even if it stays on at the same price, there’s still going to be pressure on the budget."

To alleviate that pressure, Shuler said city departments are having to wait to make small equipment purchases and fill any vacancies. Shuler said city departments may create "lag time" between the time an employee leaves the city and hiring a replacement to save money that would otherwise go toward the employee’s salary and benefits.

"That salary savings could be applied to any kind of shortfall we might experience," Shuler said.

Aside from curbing spending, Shuler said the city is protecting itself from deficit this year by "watching both sides of the budget"— not just spending, but revenues as well.

"Fuel expenses are just a part of a larger budget concern that we’re trying to address in a multifaceted way," Shuler said.

Hooper thinks positively, in an "every little bit counts" mentality, about the department’s conservation efforts, and he sent an e-mail to patrol officers telling them he appreciated their efforts.

"It saved us money that we’d have spent if we hadn’t conserved," he said.


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