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Rising fuel costs cause budget woes for DL

DETROIT LAKES - It's no secret increasing fuel prices are affecting everyone. The city is no exception.

Sixty percent of budgeted funds for fuel are already gone in only the first five months of the year. The two departments this affects most are the police department and the public works department.

City Finance Officer Lou Guzek said the city will have to make some adjustments for fuel costs for the two departments and will more than likely take funds from the general fund to cover the extra fuel expense.

In the public works department, the snow budget is already spent for this year -- meaning no snow until Jan. 1. Although that sounds good to some people, it's not too likely.

The police department has $25,000 budgeted for fuel for 2008, an increase of $1,000 from 2007. As of the end of May, the department had already spent almost $15,000, or 60 percent.

As for snow removal for the public works department, $20,000 was budgeted for 2008, and $27,000 has already been spent. To cover those costs, money has been taken out of another public works sub-fund for streets. That fund has a budget of $30,000 and only $8,700 has been used. In other words, the public works department has spent $36,000 of its $50,000 fuel budget.

That street fund is normally used for all other trucks, like patching work that is done in the summer, for instance, Guzek said.

Public Works Director Brad Green said because of those fuel prices, the department is trying to make up for spending in other areas.

"We're trying to conserve, but, like the police chief said, we can only do so much on foot," he said. "We'll be pinched come fall and winter."

He said the public works department is cutting back on its mowing this summer as one way to conserve. The department isn't purchasing any more gallons of fuel, but rather spending more in cost per gallon.

The annexation and mileage brought into the city was already budgeted for, so that didn't play a role, he added.

"We're conserving where we can. We're doing the best we can," he said.

Guzek said what he will do later this year, as funds continue to decrease, is go to the finance committee and ask them to allocate funds from other funds with a surplus balance, or the general fund.

He said this doesn't usually happen but because of rising fuel costs and the late snowfalls this spring, it's happening this year. The last time he remembers taking funds from the general fund to cover fuel costs was during the winter of 1996-97, when there was an abundance of snow.

He added that last year when preparing the budget for 2008, he took into consideration the rising gas prices, but those prices jumped a bit more than anyone could have predicted. Next year, even more will be budgeted for fuel.

"We still have to provide the services," Guzek said.