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Lower gas prices delight government budget officials
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Hall Area Transit Red Rabbit bus driver Willie Weldon punches in a code to begin refueling Monday at the vehicle services facility at the Alta Vista Complex. The price of gas has been dropping steadily and could mean big savings for local governments. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Dropping gas prices may be the best fiscal news that local government services have heard lately.

"We predict for the budget how much money we’ll need for gas for the year, and right now the price is under that, so I hope it continues," said Johnny Wilson, operations manager for Hall Area Transit. "With the new routes opening in January, we’re trying to keep all our expenses as low as possible."

Last week was the steepest week-to-week drop in crude oil prices this year — an almost $7 drop per barrel. Prices in Georgia declined 8 cents per gallon, the same drop as the national average.

"We haven’t seen anything like this since last October, when prices dropped $10 a barrel for three weeks," said Greg Laskoski, managing director of public relations for AAA Auto Club South. "It’s mostly from the sluggishness of the economy with abundant supplies of oil and gas for this time of the year. Oil analysts expected a stronger economy to create a greater demand, and that hasn’t happened."

Gas prices should continue to decline for the coming weeks, he said.

"Prices follow consistent seasonal patterns, and we peaked this year around early July. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we’ll continue to see incremental decreases," he said. "People forget that prices were up around $4 last year at this time. Dropping tenths of a cent day after day adds up over a week."

Although Hall County schools haven’t used buses much this summer, lower gas prices are a welcome sight for the upcoming weeks.

"We had some gas left in the tanks for the summer, but we’re getting ready to have to order some fuel," said Jewel Armour, executive director of operations and transportation for the school system. "We have a bid on gasoline and diesel with a supplier each year that we estimate as best we can."

Money not used for gasoline goes back into a general fund, which may be used for bus maintenance in the long run, he said. HAT draws its gas funds from the city and doesn’t have a supply contract but does benefit from low prices.

"Prices fluctuate week to week, and right now it’s tailing off some. The city’s good at lowering it for us," Wilson said.

The Gainesville Fire Department is also funded through the city, and Fire Chief Jon Canada said he would like to see the prices "go even lower."

"The prices were so volatile last year, and it was hard to estimate what this year would be," he said. "Anything below that estimate is a savings in our budget and for the city in general."

Last year, the fire department burned 15,000 gallons of fuel.

"We budgeted $3 per gallon for this year, so anything below that is tremendous in savings," Canada said. "If the prices stay down the rest of the fiscal year, we could stand to save $15,000 to $16,000."

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