The largest fleet of county-owned vehicles reported to Historic City News is the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office; whose deputies depend on their patrol vehicles to deliver critical public safety services — from one end of the county to the other.
Those vehicles burn gasoline — and a lot of it. They are operated on a daily basis, arguably with the most critical mission.
Close monitoring of gasoline has been an issue for the sheriff’s office for the past two budget cycles, as their fuel costs have increased in rhythm to civilian fuel prices that Historic City News readers pay at the pump.
Sheriff David Shoar has a registered Certified Public Accountant on staff; Chief Financial Officer Mark Simpson. One of his responsibilities, according to an interview with Sergeant Charles E. Mulligan this morning, is to maintain a working spreadsheet on motor vehicle costs for the department.
According to the current fiscal year budget, which began on October 1, 2011, the sheriff budgeted for 42,000 gallons of gasoline usage, agency wide, each month. The majority of the department vehicles are attached to the patrol division and primarily use regular unleaded fuel.
“We would have to possess psychic powers,” Mulligan told reporters, “to know how much fuel we were going to need each month — there is no way to know when we are going to have a hurricane or other natural disaster, or when our jail population is going to increase.”
One example offered by the sheriff’s office occurred in recent months. January has 31 days. February had 29 days because of leap year.
In January, the department used 34,331 gallons of fuel; however, in the shorter month of February, fuel consumption was higher at 40,800 gallons. Mulligan pointed out that, from a gallons-of-use perspective, the agency is comfortably below its budgeted 42,000 gallons of fuel. Unfortunately, sharply rising fuel prices, per gallon, offset the savings comparison to gallons of consumption that were budgeted.
Because the fleet is dispersed at any given time throughout the 600 square miles of St Johns County, provisions have to be made for access to fuel in a variety of ways.
The cheapest way the sheriff buys gasoline, is through a distributor who delivers the fuel to underground tanks that supply pumps behind the St Johns County Detention Facility. The department purchases the fuel just like the gas station on the street corner but does not pay the taxes that make up a considerable part of the $4.00 plus that you and I pay at the pump.
To save otherwise unnecessary trips into town, authorized personnel are issued a GATE Petroleum and another branded gasoline credit card to be used in such situations. Mulligan pointed out that although it is more expensive when deputies use the credit cards, the savings in fuel and personnel time by refueling in the field, minimizes the difference in price.
During January, the average price of all fuel purchased by the sheriff’s office was $3.16 per gallon. In February, not only did the burn more fuel, they paid an average of $3.38 per gallon for every gallon they used.
“We can’t control the price we pay for the gasoline, but we can control our vehicle usage,” Sheriff Shoar told reporters.
Historic City News asked how the sheriff intended to accomplish that control.
“I won’t speculate on that at this point, because we’re not there yet,” Shoar said. “Patrol functions play an essential, strategic part in crime prevention; so, it’s not likely that we would look at reducing the patrol force needed to keep the community safe.”
Historic City News editor Michael Gold asked if the sheriff’s opinion had changed on the benefits of “take home” patrol cars — he said it hasn’t. Shoar believes that the cost to keep vehicles in the patrol zones as opposed to in a central parking lot is not significant. Shoar did say that if fuel costs do continue to rise, he is prepared to look at current policies that allow “off duty usage” of take-home patrol vehicles.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer