Prices at the pump have been difficult for the average consumer to handle in the wake of Gulf Coast Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But for one group that based its fuel budget on prices in 2004, that budget will soon be exhausted.
The McDuffie County Road Department calculated the cost of premium fuel in the 2005 budget at $1.38 per gallon. Director Chris Pelly wrote to commissioners recently that he had purchased regular unleaded gasoline to operate his equipment at the price of $2.45 per gallon.
His letter stated that diesel had gone from $1.61 to $2.50, and high sulfur diesel had risen from $1.37 to $2.50. And in the week after he wrote the letter, prices rose another 35 cents.
The cost increase ate through the department's fuel budget at an unprecedented rate. As of Tuesday only $4,000 remained in the coffers to purchase fuel, and a delivery for next week that will cost $15,500 was already scheduled.
"Considering this substantial increase it will come as no surprise to anyone that we have used approximately 95 percent of our budgeted fuel expense with three more months to go this year," Mr. Pelly's letter to commissioners stated.
On top of the high cost of fuel, availability is beginning to diminish as well, Mr. Pelly said. Because the tanks at the road department also supply fuel for the county's ambulances and sheriff's department, he said they have been placed on high priority.
"Otherwise they'd tell us, é─˛You get it when you get it,'" Mr. Pelly said. "Lately all they've been dropping is about 1,500 gallons to other areas. Like in Warrenton, they dropped 1,500, and he came here and he dropped 3,000."
With the limited availability and high cost, Mr. Pelly said some conservation methods have begun in his department. No truck leaves the yard with only one employee inside.
He also said work needing to be done is grouped by proximity to keep from driving back and forth across the county, and mowing will come to an early end. Despite the conservation efforts, the work to county roads still needs to be done, he said.
The current plan for purchasing fuel will come from other sections of the road department's budget. County Manager Don Norton told commissioners the rest may have to come from the county's dwindling contingency.
"As far as a solution to the problem, I don't know what solution there is for it," Mr. Pelly said. "It's something that I can't let them forget about."