Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

High fuel prices take toll on budgets

October 19, 2000

Area residents are bracing for increased fuel costs this winter.

Whether it's heat for the home or gasoline for the car, forecasts are for consumers to see major increases in price this year. Adding to the problem could be long-range weather forecasts calling for temperatures much lower than in recent years.

The cost of fuel not only has an impact for the consumer, but increases can also have ripple effects in public services. Maybe nowhere is that more evident than in the 2000-2001 budget of the Basehor-Linwood School District.

Acting Superintendent Cal Cormack said last week the district had some warning of potential increases and attempted to budget accordingly.

"When we were putting the budget together in the early summer, we were in the middle of the price increases so we anticipated the problem. We increased our motor fuel budget about 40 percent.

"We anticipated the increase in natural gas, plus we've added a lot of space in the schools. So we doubled our budget in that area, and we hope that's enough," Cormack said.

The district contracts bus service, but pays for the fuel. For the current year the budget for gas is $60,000, up from $56,000 last year and nearly double the budget of the 1998-99 school year, when $32,000 was spent.

Although the fuel prices were tough on last year's budget, Cormack said it gave them some idea on how to budget this year.

"We hadn't anticipated some of it last year, so we had to make adjustments. That helped in our budget this year because the bulk of the adjustments had been made," he said.

The district has budgeted around $150,000 for natural gas this year. Increases all around are anticipated, but one of the biggest hits could be for schools in Basehor where $78,000 has been budgeted this year up from $35,000 last year.

"And that's just natural gas, there's also additional money for electricity that had to be taken into account," Cormack said.

He said having to spend increased dollars on utilities meant decisions in the educational process had to be made.

"There's only so much money coming in, so if you are spending additional money on utilities, you don't have the money in other places. We were not able to expand in areas we would like, such as technology and instruction. It's not like you go in and say we are cutting $100,000 from here, You cut or don't expand in areas.

"In some, you just can't be as effective as you would like," Cormack said.

He cited a computer-based reading program as an example of the budget crunch.

"An example is a program we piloted last spring for reading intervention. It is designed for younger students that are having trouble reading. It is a very good program, but it is very expensive," Cormack said.

"I had hoped we could expand it from 10 students to 100, but we had to cut it back to just 20 students. This is an important area and we would have liked to have been more aggressive"

He noted unusually cold temperatures or further price increases could eat into the budget further, but he thinks the budget should be sufficient.

"It's part of our environment to be conservative in planning, so I hope we have it taken care of," he said.

Mayor John Pfannenstiel said the city's budget practices would help ease budget concerns.

"There are line items within the general budget, so if we need to shift some money we can do it pretty easily," he said.

He noted that natural gas and gasoline only account for 1 percent of the city's $710,000 operating budget.

"We had budgeted $5,000 for gasoline for the police department and through Aug. 31 they had used $4,400. For the street department we had budgeted $1,500, and on Aug. 31 they were over $100. Most of the problem this winter would likely come next year," he said.

Pfannenstiel said the city would see a rise in natural gas prices because of expansion at city hall.

"We more than doubled the size of the building, so that will have an impact, but it still shouldn't be that much of a concern," he said.

One area the city won't be concerned about is snow removal. Pfannenstiel said the city contracts out snow removal and the price has been set.

"If gas goes too high it might effect the contractor, but he'll just have to absorb it because the contracts have already been signed," he said.

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