Rising gas prices eventually may lead to higher taxes or leaner municipal services for residents of cities and counties along the Wasatch Front.
Local fleet managers, public works officials and police and fire chiefs are struggling to stay within budgets that were calculated using gas prices as they were before Iraq invaded Kuwait. If winter hits hard this year, the problem could become critical as snow-removal crews work overtime.Elected officials soon could be grappling with decisions to either cut budgets or raise taxes.
In Salt Lake City, for example, Fleet Manager Neil Butters estimates he will need an extra $104,997 to keep operating through the end of the fiscal year next June unless gas prices come down or crews drive less.
Every time gasoline rises by 1 cent a gallon between now and the end of the fiscal year in June, that figure will rise by about $7,140, he said.
In West Jordan, the burden of rising fuel prices was one of the main topics addressed Thursday during a meeting of city department heads, with officials concluding that conservation and possibly more severe strategies are in order.
"Our problem is that we're facing this price crunch almost in the middle of our fiscal year, when budgets are less flexible. All of the cities in the valley are in the same fix," Salt Lake City Manager John Hiskey said.
West Jordan also anticipates higher costs in its garbage collection service, which is undergoing a transition to automated pick-up. The City Council is proposing a $5-per-month fee per household and hoping that the volatile fuel prices can be accommodated in the projected budget.
Many cities are encouraging workers to conserve by avoiding quick starts, making sure tires are properly inflated and sharing rides with other employees.
"The fire chief has already put some restrictions on the department driving the big trucks around," Murray Mayor Lynn Pett said. "They have gone to the smaller vehicles when doing inspections and other things. The police department isn't spending quite as much time operating their cars. They are spending more of their time off the side of the road doing radar."
Here is how some other cities and counties along the Wasatch Front are dealing with the problem:
City Manager Tom Hardy said the increase in gas prices is having a tremendous impact on the city budget.
"If the gas prices stay what they are right now, it will cost us $60,000 to $70,000 more than what we budgeted.
Hardest hit by the gas crunch are the police, street and garbage removal departments, none of which can be cut back significantly without putting the safety and health of citizens at risk, Hardy said.
Hardy plans to ask the City Council next month for money from the city's contingency fund to cover the increased gasoline costs.
And what will the city do next year if gas prices remain high? "I don't see how we could swallow that large a chunk without doing something - either cutting a major service or raising taxes," Hardy said.
Finance officials say the increased prices will have a minimal effect on their budget this year because the county purchased a large quantity of gasoline before the Persian Gulf crisis. But next year's budget could be impacted as much as $100,000, said budget analyst Steve Rawlings.
Mayor Lynn Pett said the city would cut budgets and capital projects before increasing taxes to deal with gasoline problem.
Mayor Lawrence P. Smith said, "We are dealing with it internally as best we can. It's particularly critical in our public works department where we run a lot of equipment. In the police department as well.
"We will be able to deal with it all right. However, if it goes up another 20 cents a gallon, it could get to the point where we would have to cut some services."
Salt Lake County
Salt Lake County officials say they estimated conservatively last year when planning budgets. As a result, the higher prices have yet to cause problems. The county estimates it has to pay an extra $13,700 per year for every 1 cent rise in gas prices.
South Salt Lake
Mayor James W. Davis said, "I have the city recorder doing a study now. Of course, it's a huge expense because we have police cars on the road 24 hours a B day."
Davis said midyear budget adjustments may need to be made.
"But our revenue projections are ahead right now so I think we will be able to absorb that within that parameter."
West Valley City
The city already has heard from its garbage collection service, and the news isn't good. Waste Management, the company that provides the service, has requested a $1,500 per month increase to cover the unanticipated rise in the cost of diesel fuel.
West Valley City Manager John D. Newman said the city's fuel costs have risen 40 percent since spring and have affected almost every department. "Naturally, the biggest impact for us will be in the police budget."
However, Newman said West Valley doesn't intend to curtail vital public safety services. "We can't tell someone who calls for a police officer that their needs don't rise to a level that warrants sending out an officer," he said.
So cutbacks are more likely in non-emergency services, such as public works projects.
- Urban issues reporters JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, Joe Costanzo and Brent Israelsen contributed to this story.