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Fuel speculation: County must watch budget after underestimating cost of gas

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Patrick Holgen, an apparatus maintenance coordinator, fills up the tank of an ambulance at one of the county's 11 fueling stations.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Patrick Holgen, an apparatus maintenance coordinator, fills up the tank of an ambulance at one of the county's 11 fueling stations.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett officials are once again looking to cut expenses since high tax prices are digging into the bottom line.

In the government's 2011 budget, officials had expected a $2.75 price per gallon. Halfway through the year, at the end of June, just less than 60 percent of the money budgeted had been spent, said spokesman Joe Sorenson.

"Departments are reprioritizing their general operating expenses to cover the plus-$1 million needed," he said of the $5.8 million budgeted item now expected to be around $7 million.

For the past several years, the government has had a conservation policy for people who drive county vehicles, including police officers, firefighters, road and water and sewer workers and others.

Drivers have been encouraged to consolidate and coordinate trips, observe speed limits and avoid rapid acceleration and other practices that cut down on fuel consumption. Gwinnett also has a no-idling policy and a green fleet policy, Sorenson said.

According to AAA, metro Atlanta's monthly gas price average has been more than $3 a gallon since January. It eclipsed the $2.75 mark in November, and averaged $3.6362 per gallon for unleaded in July.

However, the county government has a fuel contract combined with other agencies such as the school system. The competitive bid process keeps prices lower than gas stations.

Earlier this month, officials began planning for next year's budget, and Sorenson said finance officials are crunching the numbers on what to expect from gas prices.