Police departments try to predict next year's gas prices

After a year of roller-coaster gas prices,local officials are proceeding cautiously in predicting how much fuel will cost as they pull together next year's budgets.

Port Royal town manager Van Willis said his staff is focusing on how much fuel town-owned vehicles will use this year, not how much that fuel might cost.

"We want to look at how much fuel we think we'll use in gallons instead of what the price might be," he said. "The price of the fuel just ebbs and flows, and it's just one of those things you have to deal with. Everything is conjecture right now, but that's about all you can do, given the volatility of that market."

In 2008, the town budgeted $40,000 to gas up police cars, but spent $77,000. This year, the town set aside $84,000, but has doled out just $33,000 so far.

"We overbudgeted big time, but we were looking at gas prices between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon," Willis said.

Willis expects to spend between $60,000 and $70,000 for Police Department fuel next year.

The Beaufort Police Department budgeted $135,000 last year for fuel for the department's 50 vehicles, said Chief Matt Clancy. He expects to use that figure in the upcoming budget.

Beaufort County also is struggling to nail down a plan, said deputy county administrator Bryan Hill.

"We based on our budget on gas being $3.50 a gallon and by July it had shot up to $4.10 a gallon so it threw the budget out of whack," said Hill. "Thankfully, when gas prices came down in September and October, we had padded our budget so we were in pretty good shape. This year, I'm trying to be as conservative as possible, but you can never predict what the commodities and futures markets are going to do."

Hill said the county's fuel budget will likely be about $2 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

In Bluffton, the cost of fueling police cars has "danced" between $103,000 and $135,000, said Town Manager Bill Workman. "It can be a little frustrating."