County watches gas cost

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County officials are attempting to avoid another fuel shortage this summer by entering into contracts with two gas providers.

The Board of Commissioners approved the move Tuesday to go with the two lowest bidders on its annual fuel contract, which provides gas for school buses, fire engines, police cruisers and other government equipment.

The decision comes more than six months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused disruptions in the nation's fuel supplies and even forced school systems to cancel classes for two days to conserve diesel.

According to Gwinnett fleet management director Michael Lindsey, the county was never without fuel but several times came close to a plateau that could have meant vehicles were curbed except for emergencies.

During the crisis, the county did cut out mowing at local parks and along roadsides and asked police officers to turn off their engines instead of idling on patrol.

Lindsey said the county had only one fuel provider and, "when he was out of fuel, we were out of fuel."

That sent officials scrambling to find other sources, until eventually the state government was able to help out.

"It's likely that we will have that problem again," Lindsey said. "I hope not, but I have to play the game as if it were going to happen again."

Lindsey said he's going to divide the two fuel contracts between the county's 11 fueling stations.

This week, Energy Department officials said gas prices across the nation could reach as high as $3 this summer, and tornado season could disrupt supplies again.

For a county government that averages 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of fuel a day when school is in session and 6,000 to 7,000 gallons when schools are out, fuel shortages could mean road crews aren't sent out or police patrols are cut down.

According to Chairman Charles Bannister, the fuel situation also has him keeping a closer eye on the government's budget.

Twice last year, money had to be shifted to cover the fuel expenses, and he said it may have to happen again this year.

"A rise of that magnitude impacts the budget," he said. "There's not much we can do about it under the circumstances."