Manassas Journal Messenger | Government, schools look to save fuel

Recent gasoline price surges have caused some government agencies and schools districts to rethink their policies in an effort to conserve fuel and dollars.

Though unleaded gas prices have decreased 12 percent from their post-Hurricane Katrina record numbers, the average price is still about 69 cents higher than it was a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Retail gasoline prices are expected to average $2.35 in 2005 and $2.45 in 2006, according to the federal department.

Local government agencies’ and schools’ budgets are reacting and planning.

Expecting to spend between $500,000 and $600,000 on fuel in 2005, the city of Manassas just appropriated $372,000 more into its budget for fuel. Those projections are up from the $270,000 budgeted for fuel last year, according to Gene Jennings, deputy director of public works.

“That is needed for fiscal 06 to come in the black. We need that to meet fuel demand for the city, schools …,” said Michael Moon, director of public works.

Manassas’ school division, which shares the city’s fuel pumps, is also making an effort to reduce fuel and utility costs.

Manassas school officials limited field trips to no more than 30 miles and tweaked temperature controls in its buildings, said acting superintendent John Boronkay.

Most of the school division’s vehicle fuel needs are for the 50 regularly used buses that use diesel fuel.

Last year, Manassas’ school division paid an average of $1.69 for diesel fuel. The current cost is $2.90.

The division is holding a work session Tuesday to discuss higher than projected fuel and utility costs for fiscal year 2006. At least $515,000 more funds would be needed to cover increased fuel, natural gas, electricity and other utility costs, according to an agenda for that meeting.

School divisions nationwide are not just coping with being overstrained when paying for fuel increases, but also costs indirectly associated with fuel, such as the increase in surcharges on supplies because of transporting and shipping, said Robin Leeds, industry specialist with the National School Transportation Association.

About 20 percent of school divisions were considering eliminating field trips or reducing the distance traveled, according to an NSTA survey conducted in September. Limiting bus idling, not requiring buses to be brought back to terminals daily and consolidating bus stops are also options that were being practiced or explored, said Leeds.

Prince William County Public School’s department of transportation oversees about 800 regularly-running buses, said transportation director Ed Bishop.

The school division hasn’t done anything it wasn’t already doing — such as reducing bus idling and using fuel-cleaning additives — to try to manage costs.

“We do have a reserve fund that can be used for those situations when they arise,” said Keith Imon, associate superintendent for communication and technology.

The Prince William County public works department oversees about 894 vehicles in several departments, including police, social services and building inspections, according to director Bob Wilson.

The county has asked its departments to submit fuel savings plans, which include video conferencing, carpooling or telecommuting.

Wilson said the nature of emergency and inspection services makes limiting car use difficult, if not impossible. A third fueling station based centrally in the county will reduce travel and increase fuel capacity when it opens in the spring.

Staff writer Tory N. Parrish can be reached at (703) 368-6570.

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