County agencies, schools face crunch of rising gas prices

Published 4:50 pm Monday, June 27, 2022

Lincoln County has spent nearly 50 percent more for fuel than budgeted for the past 12 months due to increasing gas prices.

“I pulled together a few numbers on the price of fuel affecting the county,” Lincoln County Administrator Daniel Calcote said. “The total budget for this fiscal year for gasoline and diesel for the road departments was $147,000, but in the last 12 months, we’ve actually spent $219,000.”

The rising cost of fuel has hit the sheriff’s office pretty hard in the last few months. “The sheriff’s budget for fuel was $125,000, which Sheriff Rushing told me he purposely budgeted high for fuel costs for the year thinking he could fit within that number based on prior years,” Calcote said. “But in the last 12 months, he’s had to spend $138,000 on fuel.”

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And the sheriff is not the only county official dealing with rising costs. Lincoln County School District Superintendent David Martin said the district is working hard to keep focused amid rising fuel hikes.

“As a district that runs 32 buses twice a day, a fuel increase has a profound effect on the budget,” he said. “There is no mechanism to increase our budget due to these costs increases. Each district must take those funds from another area to cover these and other increases.”

He said the state Legislature set the education budget when the session ended in early spring.  Since then, fuel costs have increased nearly $1 per gallon. That means local district leaders will need to find funds elsewhere in the budget to offset the increased fuel costs.

“It can appear we have adequate or even excess funds, but some of our state and federal policies do not allow us to spend funds but on specific items or areas regardless of needs elsewhere,” he added. “Just like at home, though, if costs continue to rise, potential tough decisions may need to be made.

“As a rural school district, we already are very budget conscious and do our best to make decisions that are cost effective and efficient,” he said. “Just like our parents at home, the recent economic increases in everything have had a severe impact on our budget.

“Rural schools like ours that are already operating on a very basic budget. These increases require us to look at all our spending and determine what we must have to best serve our students. Major increases in fuel, products, services, and [so on] during the school year create havoc on a budget that was created the summer before school started.”

Calcote understands that mentality, since county budgeting was something done far ahead of the fuel crises.

“While road materials prices have slowly risen over time, the current inflation hasn’t hit us too bad yet, since most of our materials costs were locked in when we received our annual bids in January,” Calcote said. “If things don’t turn around, though, I believe those bids will be much higher next year, especially on things like asphalt, which is a petroleum product.”