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Gainesville's conservation could pay off soon

POSTED: September 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Gainesville officials have been working to conserve fuel for months now, but their efforts — resulting in more than a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption — haven’t been reflected in the city’s bank account.

City Manager Bryan Shuler said as fuel prices come down in the next couple of months, all the city’s conservation efforts might start to pay off financially.

Following a months-old mandate from Shuler that city departments cut fuel consumption by at least 10 percent, city-owned vehicles used 87.5 percent of the gasoline in the first two months of this fiscal year, July and August, that was used last year.

"The trend is where we want it to be, and that’s a good thing," Shuler said. "If it continues on like this, it’ll be a very good thing, obviously."

To cut consumption, Gainesville police officers were instructed not to let their vehicles idle unnecessarily and to spend 15 minutes of every hour outside of their vehicles. Battalion chiefs with Gainesville’s Fire Department cut station rounds from seven days to four.

The Public Utilities department hired a private company to haul sludge from water treatment plants to a field near the Allen Creek Soccer Complex and limited the use of take-home vehicles.

"(For) some of these departments, it’s very challenging to reduce their usage," Shuler said.

He used the Solid Waste division of the Public Works department, which marginally cut fuel consumption when compared to other departments, as an example.

"They’ve got the same routes — they’ve got more miles of routes because they have more areas that have been developed and annexed — and they’re basically using the same type of equipment now that they’ve used in the past, so its very hard for a department like that to really reduce their usage significantly," he said.

Yet with the higher prices the city paid for fuel over the summer, the city’s fuel expenses were nearly 30 percent higher in the last two months than they were in July and August 2007.

In July and August 2007, the city paid $190,807 for 74,884 gallons of fuel, according to a fuel consumption report Shuler provided to The Times. By the end of August this year, the city had already spent 19 percent of the $1.29 million it had budgeted for fuel expenses.

If fuel spending continues at that rate — and if the price of fuel doesn’t change — the city could spend nearly $200,000 more on fuel for fiscal year 2009 than officials planned. Earlier in the week, Shuler said he did not expect the city to have to pay as much for fuel in the coming months as it did during July and August, however.

"Prices are coming down, or at least they’ve come down, so you know, those first two months, particularly July, we were at the height of the cost," Shuler said earlier in the week.

But worries late in the week that Hurricane Ike could threaten the nation’s fuel supply, however, forced the city to suspend all take-home vehicle use — even for the police department — until further notice. Shuler, who had previously predicted prices would be on the decline, said city officials would be monitoring the situation and its effect on gas prices closely.

"It all depends on how long all of this lasts," Shuler said Friday. "Nobody knows for sure how long we’re going to be facing this ... this is not necessarily a permanent thing."



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