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GAS PAINS: Price at pump is binding budgets

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By Cindy Simpson

With gas prices skyrocketing at more than $3 in the last weeks, people on the private and public sectors are feeling the pinch.

Roane County residents who commute or who travel for their work are especially noticing.

“I drive the most fuel efficient car we have,” said Roane County resident Sarah McCoin. “I can’t afford to go to my job in Knoxville with a gas guzzler.”

“I feel sorry for so many employees,” she added.

McCoin said her family has had to make adjustments in their recreation, including transporting their horses to the mountains for trail rides.

She said the cost of fuel for her farm operation is taking a toll as well.

Most farm equipment is diesel — which is running well higher than gasoline.

“Every time we fill the tractor up, it is an endless pit,” McCoin said.

McCoin hopes there is one silver lining to the prices.

“I hope people will do business in Roane County,” she said.

Commissioner Randy Ellis also travels to Knoxville for his job.

“With the gas prices, me and my family have had to cut back on driving and tighten up on our family budget,” Ellis said.

Governments in Roane County see gas costs affecting their budgets, particularly in areas such as law enforcement that see the most traveling.

“If this continues awhile, it is going to affect us all,” said County Executive Ron Woody.

Woody said the Roane County Sheriff Office has spent about half of its fuel revenue so far. If the high gas prices continue, or even escalate, the office may have to look at steps to cut down on fuel use, he added.

The ambulance service runs on the more costly diesel.

Woody said that is where the county is seeing a real problem, with $54,000 of the budgeted $85,000 being spent thus far based on February numbers.

Woody said he hopes the Roane County Commission will reconsider changes to the fee structure at the ambulance service. He said the county’s charges for the service are much cheaper than other areas.

Harriman officials say a lot depends on if the high prices continue as well.  

“We’re tight in our budget to begin with on gas, oil and fuel,” said Harriman Treasurer Charles Kerley. Kerley said it is the police department that uses the most fuel and would be most likely to see a budget overrun.

“They have some mitigating actions they can take,” Kerley added.

That includes doubling up in patrol cars if need be.

“I think probably if this were an extended increase in prices, we might see using up our (fuel) budget by late April timeframe,” Kerley said.

Rockwood has spent more than expected for the city’s own Rockwood police fleet’s fuel, but Rockwood City Recorder Jim Hines said months of being short staffed may help the police budget cover the overages in fuelspending.

Kingston Police Chief Jim Washam said his department is within its fuel budget for now.

“We’re starting to see the increase now (in the billing),” Washam said.

They may be within budget, but they’ve also implemented some conservation efforts.

“We’re cutting (the vehicles) off and starting to cut back a little, not on our service but on some of our mileage,” Washam said.