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Budgeting for gas: Scottsbluff departments monitor budgets as prices increase at the pump

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police cruiser file

Gas prices have impacted City of Scottsbluff departments’ budgets as more money is allocated toward fueling vehicles to perform job duties. City personnel are monitoring the expense as the council prepares to budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Gas prices have increased across the country, impacting families’ summer vacation bills. Those higher prices are also impacting local departments like the police and roads.

During the regular Scottsbluff City Council meeting Monday, June 20, interim city manager and Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer told the council during discussion of the May financial report that budget expenditures for gasoline have increased.

May was the ninth month of the city’s fiscal year, meaning departments should have 34% of their budget remaining for the 2021-22 year. Overall, the city budget is in a good position, but the surge in gas prices has city officials keeping an eye on that expenditure, Spencer said.

“Everything looks good,” Spencer told the council. “The one thing that’s really grabbing our attention right now is the price for fuel. Just for example, the police department we’re usually at $4,000 to $4,500. We’re at almost $7,000, so we’re looking at that really close, but everything else is in order.”

Despite having to allocate more of a department’s budgeted allowance toward fuel, Spencer said services have not been impacted.

“So far, it hasn’t affected anybody’s ability to do our jobs,” he told the Star-Herald. “It’s just something we’re mindful of right now. I think everyone had enough money in their budget to get us through this. We anticipated a price increase when we did our budgets. We didn’t exactly anticipate one like this.”

Most of the city’s departments are above 34% budget remaining for the 2021-22 budget year as of the May financial report: police department, 40%; fire, 35%; emergency management, 57%; parks, 67%; recreation, 50%; finance, 39%; personnel, 30%; council, 94%; development services, 39%; library, 42%; city manager, 77%; city clerk, 42%; and miscellaneous, 54%.

Spencer said the parks budget is higher than the other departments because former city manager Dustin Rief set aside money for projects without much of a plan. The city is currently working to develop a plan for those funds.

One benefit for the Scottsbluff Police Department is officers use hybrid vehicles while patrolling and responding to calls. The department currently has five Ford SUV Police Interceptor Units (PIUs) that are hybrids and two more have been ordered.

Departments can draw from other line items within a department fund to compensate for fuel costs, so long as they stay within the annual budget figures.

Along with the rise in gas prices are the inflation for materials, making the city pause on large projects.

“The bigger projects will be more expensive. Materials and construction costs are very inflated right now,” he said. “I wouldn’t anticipate any difficulty with projects that we have.”

Spencer said it would be difficult to imagine moving forward with the landfill project currently as the cost for materials would likely increase the budget by 30-40%.

“I don’t think this next budget cycle there will be a big project,” he said.

The only potential project would be construction of an aquatics center if voters pass LB 357. Without those funds, Spencer said the city will have to make difficult decisions.

“We’re going to have to replace Westmoor at some point,” he said. “It’s just too costly.”

Spencer said city officials are paying attention to fuel expenses as they prepare to draft the 2022-23 budget.

“We’re going to have to increase our fuel budget.”

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Digital Editor

Lauren Brant is a digital editor with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at lauren.brant@starherald.com.

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