High cost of fuel causes state budget problems

Thursday, October 6th 2005, 10:08 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The high cost of gasoline is straining budgets at state and local agencies, particularly the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Public Safety Commissioner Kevin Ward said Wednesday he might ask the Legislature for an additional $2.4 million to bolster a gas budget that was based on fuel prices of about $2.10 a gallon. Average gas prices in Oklahoma are now about $2.80.

High prices could mean a reduction in the number of Highway Patrol troopers on patrol.

``It's kind of double-edged sword,'' 2nd Lt. Pete Norwood said. ``It's cost effective for us, but it keeps us from being visible. When you see a trooper, you do slow down.''

Dave Murdock, state fleet manager, leases vehicles to 67 state agencies. His agency pays for the first 1,500 miles of gas and covers all maintenance. After 1,500 miles, the renting agency pays 23 cents per mile.

Leasing a Ford Taurus from Murdock used to cost agencies $352 per month. On Saturday, the price increased to about $405 because of gas prices. Murdock said he won't decrease the price unless gas falls to $2 a gallon.

``I don't see it getting any better for a while,'' he said.

Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson bought seven Chevrolet Impalas, which he said get better gas mileage than the Ford Crown Victoria, which is the standard police car for his agency.

``It's hurting us,'' he said. ``The whole part of patrolling and going into these neighborhoods ... is to deter crime. We're having to sit in parking lots because we can't afford the prices at the pump.''

Pearson's office reports the new cars get 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. He said the old cars were getting between 12 and 13 miles to the gallon.

Comanche County Sheriff Kenny Stradley said the fight between his deputies and methamphetamine addicts is so intense that he cannot afford to ease patrols. He said he might ask for more money from county officials.

``For me to cut back right now would be terrible,'' he said. ``Instead of having two or three cars out, we might have to put two or three (deputies) in a car.''