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Public agencies brace for fuel tax, but helped by lower gas prices
Excise tax kicks in Wednesday
Hall County firefighter Shaun Stringer fills up Engine 4 Tuesday afternoon at the Station 4 diesel pump.

Local governments, schools and public agencies are bracing for the impact of a 26-cent-per-gallon state excise tax on gasoline, which will contribute to $850 million or more in revenue for road and bridge projects across Georgia, that takes effect Wednesday.  

The initial increase over the previous tax is about 6 cents per gallon. But with gas prices lower, on average, than they have been in many years, some agencies are able to manage the immediate hit.  

Hall County government and schools

According to Hall County finance officials, $2,153,023 was budgeted for overall fuel costs in the last fiscal year for county government. Costs are projected to rise to more than $2,178,000 for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.   

The county school district will no longer receive the same exemptions on fuel taxes, but it’s a fact of life Superintendent Will Schofield said he can live with.

“The bottom line is that the state of Georgia is attempting to address serious transportation issues that involve significant cost,” he said. “I am in favor of fuel/user taxes to accomplish that goal. It will cost our district more money to purchase fuel, but it is fair and we are willing to be part of the overall solution.”

The Hall County School District spends between $2 and $2.3 million on average per year on diesel fuel, according to Schofield, in its separate budget.

“I have actually lowered that figure for (the 2016 fiscal year) by about $100,000 based upon lower (gas prices),” he added. “However, the new tax that schools were previously exempt from will cost approximately $180,000.”

Hall County Sheriff’s Office

The Sheriff’s Office budget will not be adjusted to offset the tax increase, according to spokeswoman Nicole Bailes.

“Gas prices are at a historic low, and as long as those prices do not spike considerably high, we should fall within budget …” Bailes said. “As with any unforeseen expense, if fuel prices do rise to the point of causing a budgetary issue, we can address that with the commission at that time.”

Hall County Fire Services

The fuel budget for the Hall County Fire Services is actually decreasing next year, while costs will rise in the Emergency Medical Service budget, according to fire spokesman Scott Cagle.

“This is due to a concentrated effort by Chief (Jeff) Hood to better track units throughout the year to allow for a more accurate fuel requests, and decreasing certain incidents that fire engines would respond to,” Cagle said.

The fire budget for the fiscal year that just ended was about $265,000, and will drop to about $234,000 over the next year.

The EMS fuel budget will rise to about $191,000 this fiscal year from about $123,000.

City of Gainesville

The city’s cost of fuel has averaged $2.75 per gallon in 2015, according to finance officials.

Department directors were advised to budget fuel costs at between $3 and $3.25 per gallon, providing a 10 percent to 20 percent contingency to account for the new tax and the possibility of rising gas prices.   

“The city budget for fuel costs is based on very conservative estimates using historical costs and usage,” said Gainesville Chief Financial Officer Melody Marlowe. “The budget does not break down to specific components of cost. Estimates include a contingency that would accommodate fluctuations in prices to include increases in fuel taxes. Actual costs are monitored throughout the year, and any adjustments necessary would be made through contingency.” 

Meanwhile, the police department has budgeted $360,000 for fuel expense in the current fiscal year, the same as last year.

Meals on Wheels

The local Meals on Wheels program had been exempt from fuel taxes for the past three years, saving about $10,000 per year, according to Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center Director Phillippa Lewis Moss.

“While we were disappointed to learn that the exemption will not be extended this year, there shouldn’t be any major ramifications this coming year as we are still getting relief from overall lower fuel prices,” Moss said.

Division of Family and Children Services

The gas tax will likely have little impact on the budget of the Division of Family and Children Services, according to Ashley Fielding, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs and Communications for the Department of Human Services.

The division reimburses employees for fuel costs, and the rate paid is set by the state.

Travel costs are only a small percentage of the budget.

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