North Alabama governments are feeling the pain at the pump and increasing budgets

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Athens police investigate minor reports by phone or email rather than visiting the scene of incidents.

But Madison County sheriff’s deputies are still answering their calls as they normally do despite gasoline prices rising to record highs.

Governments in the Huntsville metro area may be using different methods to deal with rising fuel costs, but officials all admit their budgets are taking a hit.

“We’re going to do our job no matter what,” Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner said. “We must respond to all the calls addressed to us. It’s just the price we have to pay in our budget to go out and answer our calls. … If we need to add more money to this budget, we will go to the (Madison County) Commission and ask for an adjustment.

As of June 29, the average price for regular gasoline was $4.45 per gallon and $5.50 for diesel according to AAA. Prices actually fell a few weeks ago, when motorists paid a record $4.60 for a gallon of gasoline and $5.61 for diesel on June 14.

But governments and subway residents were paying $2.77 for gasoline and $2.98 for diesel just a year ago.

In response, Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said his department had also “reduced out-of-town travel to pick up a person on some minor traffic warrants.”

“We continue to monitor prices and have a few other options should we implement them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city of Huntsville has increased fuel line items by $1 million through the middle of the year for its services that have fleets, chief financial officer Penny Smith said.

“At the time, gas prices were a little above $4,” she says. “We continue to follow this. Right now we are good. If it continues to rise, we may need to adjust.

Police, fire and rescue, public works, construction trucks, sewers and inspection services are the most affected.

“Departments will make the cuts if they’re needed,” Smith said, but she said revenue doesn’t follow that way. Revenues are still above forecasts.

Total 2021 already equaled

Madison County has spent $1.7 million on fuel in its departments so far this fiscal year, according to Chief Financial Officer Carol Long. That’s as much as the county spent all of last year.

“And we still have three months left,” she said.

And while the sheriff’s department is going about business as usual, other departments may not be.

“This is something that is brutal on all local governments and families,” Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said. “The Madison County Commission is also affected. Some vehicles go home with on-call status. We are considering potentially parking them. At this time we are able to support with our reserves.

In Athens, city officials voted on the budget for its electricity department on June 28. This is because the start of the department’s fiscal year begins July 1, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“Put simply, our fuel expenses have doubled over the past year,” said Blair Davis, Athens Electrical Department Manager, whose department provides electricity to all of Limestone County, including the parts annexed by Huntsville, Madison and Decatur. “Our FY23 budget has a 100% fuel cost increase planned.”

The other departments of Athens still have three months ahead of them.

“We’re at 66.7% of the budget year, and I’m at 82% of my fuel budget,” said street department director Dolph Bradford. “Sanitation has already used 91% of their budget for fuel and oil.”

As is the case with Huntsville, the city still sees revenue above forecasts. For this reason, Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks does not see departments having to make cuts.

“We try to be as careful as possible,” the mayor said. He said departmental budgets are reviewed on a monthly basis.

“That’s really one of our concerns,” Marks added. “The police department in fact, as with other departments, we are going to do everything we can through emails, phone calls, trying to address the concerns of our citizens while continuing to do our business. We still have to go out for building inspections and that sort of thing. »

Marks said fuel costs “will definitely reduce our year-end revenue stream.”

“We’re just going to adjust as necessary,” he said. “And if we have to consider cutting spending, we will look and see what priorities we give to them. For now, we don’t expect to do that. »

Year-end impact

Marks said record gasoline prices could affect purchases made by the city after revenue comes in at the end of the fiscal year. He said revenue last year was about $3 million more than expenses.

This allowed the city to buy vehicles for the police, fire and health services.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said his city has seen a roughly 50% increase in the cost of fuel.

“We went from about $35,000 a month on average to about $51,000 to $52,000 a month on average in city fuel,” he said.

As is the case with other governments on the Metro, he said the city is budgeting conservatively and does not expect departments to have to make budget cuts.

“We always put a little bit more in there knowing it could go up,” Finley said. “But we certainly didn’t factor in such a high increase. We will be fine. We have it in stock.

He said revenues always exceed expenses, but concedes “It just won’t leave us that much in the end. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the end of the world.

Finley said the biggest impact will be on next year’s budgeting.

“By the time you’re done, you’re looking at $150,000, $200,000 more a year,” he said. “It’s just going to take away another project you might be able to do.”

Scott Turner reports from Huntsville for The Lede.

Edward N. Arrington