Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
West Valley economic development manager Ralph K. Lee, left, detective Steve O'Camb and city manager Wayne T. Pyle stand next to Hybrid Camry vehicles. West Valley City started using 20 hybrids earlier this year, reducing annual gas costs $16,000-$23,000.

As gas prices are straining budgets across Utah, West Valley City officials say they've found a way to cut costs on fuel — and help the environment.

After years of using — and discontinuing use of — various alternative fuel vehicles, the city started using 20 Toyota Camry hybrids earlier this year that have already improved their gas mileage by 35 percent to 45 percent over the regular sedans the city uses. With predictions that the city will save between $16,000-$23,000 annually on just those 20 cars, with little maintenance, city manager Wayne Pyle says West Valley City might just switch all of its eligible sedans to hybrids over the next seven years.

"Our normal mode of operation would have led us away from doing this sort of thing, but what's changed is the fact that those numbers (of mileage and maintenance costs) have come out," Pyle said. "Once we looked at those numbers we said, 'guess what, the future has arrived. It makes more sense for us to do it this way than with the old technology.' That was an interesting realization for us."

West Valley has about 500 vehicles in its fleet, including trucks, police cruisers and sedans. Pyle says technology for alternative fuel vehicles doesn't meet the needs of police cruisers — mostly Ford Crown Victorias that get the city about 12 miles per gallon — but at least 60 other city cars could be hybrid and get 30 to 35 miles per gallon.

So far the city's administration, community development and police department have been using the hybrids, which, at $23,200 each, cost the city about $2,500 more than their nonhybrid Camrys. Fleet manager Virginia Duke says the city will recoup the costs of the hybrids within three to five years, or faster if gas prices keep climbing steadily.

"I think it is the wave of the future in fleet — not just hybrids, but all alternative fuel vehicles," Duke said. "There is a lot going on in that arena right now."

Pyle said saving fuel costs with the part-fossil fuel, part-electric powered cars will make a long-term impact on the city's fuel budget, not just lessen the impact of climbing gas prices.

In previous years, West Valley considered using hybrid vehicles and tried driving vehicles powered by natural gas, but technology wasn't quite up to par with what the city needed and costs to maintain the vehicles outweighed the benefits, city spokesman Aaron Crim said. Now the city is looking at using hybrid four-wheel drive vehicles and finding more areas where the alternative fuel cars might function.

"The first batch of 20 vehicles was just a test run," Crim said. "We wanted to do a small percentage of the fleet and see what the results were. So far, it's been incredible."

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