Cities eye fuel budgets as gas prices rise

March 7, 2011 11:35:30 PM PST
Bay Area cities already struggling with crushing budget deficits could go deeper in debt because of higher fuel costs. Like everyone else, local governments are keeping an eye on gas prices. Walnut Creek is no exception. The city has a fleet of over a 100 cars.

Mark Robles has done the math. He drives from Walnut Creek to Marin County everyday and says the rise in gas prices is costing him a few hundred dollars a month.

"I've worked it out the other day and I'm paying about $70 to $75 dollars a week..more," Robles said.

Local governments are crunching the numbers too. The city of Walnut Creek has a fleet of 165 vehicles, which include police cars and trucks used by other departments. $760,000 has been budgeted for fuel in this budget cycle, but if the upward trend in gas prices continues that amount may not be enough.

"We estimated a little high so now we're OK; if gas prices get above $5 we're going to have to go back to council for more budget," Walnut Creek Public Services Director Heather Ballenger said.

If that happens, it means money will have to be taken from somewhere else. It is not an ideal situation, considering local governments are dealing with budget shortfalls in these tough economic times.

"Money's short; you know, just another place that we're going to have to take money from; it's a zero sum game," Ballenger said.

Walnut Creek city employees have since been asked to conserve. They have been told to drive less and team up when possible. It is the same kind of thing average drivers are doing.

"Now I realize every time I drive into the city, if I'm in traffic maybe I'm going to drive off hours so I don't have to sit in traffic quite as long," Walnut Creek resident Tracy Plam said.

"As soon as it gets warm I'm going to ride my bike to work more because I don't live very far from work," Walnut Creek resident Anthony Bernens said.

Walnut Creek went over its fuel budget four years ago -- $140,000 over. City leaders are hoping it will not have to come to that this year.

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