Rising gas prices challenge government, education budgets

Orange Park faces 38% increase in gas spending if trend persists

By Faith Buckley fbuckley@ufl.edu
Posted 8/3/22

CLAY COUNTY – Dog Days have rolled into Clay County with an unexpected partner this summer.

In May and June, Clay County saw a rapid influx in gas prices, and towns sprinkled across the county …

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Rising gas prices challenge government, education budgets

Orange Park faces 38% increase in gas spending if trend persists

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Dog Days have rolled into Clay County with an unexpected partner this summer.

In May and June, Clay County saw a rapid influx in gas prices, and towns sprinkled across the county quickly adjusted to a new reality.

“Obviously, there’s a budgetary impact,” Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook said. “Understanding the volatile world that we live in and knowing that gas is a must-have, for our agency, we budgeted a higher per-gallon rate.”

Clay County allocated $2,123,486 of its 2021-2022 fiscal budget toward equipment and vehicles for the sheriff’s office, which was calculated based on the highest gas rates in the last 10 years.

Cook said current gas prices are not heavily impacting the sheriff’s office's day-to-day work, but she’s skeptical of the outcome if the prices affect the supply chain.

Annaleasa Winter, public information officer for Clay County, said about 22% of the fiscal 2021-2022 Clay County budget funds transportation.

The county allocated extra funding for fuel in this year’s budget with the anticipation that gas prices would rise from the fiscal year 2020-2021.

Despite the increase in gas price, contract lawn mowing and internal staff operations for Public Works and Clay County Parks have not been affected. All emergency calls will receive first responders, and the level of service the Public Safety Department provides for Clay County will remain untouched, Winter said.

Sarah Campbell, town manager for Orange Park, said this year’s city gas prices mark the highest she’s seen in her four years in office.

Campbell ensures the six department heads of the town — police chief, fire chief, public works director, finance director economic and community director and town clerk — implement and carry out policies developed by the town’s council.

She said Orange Park holds a cooperative fuel agreement with agencies like the Clay County School District and the City of Green Cove Springs to reduce fuel prices.

The town of Orange Park spent $140,000 on gas and diesel costs so far in fiscal 2022 in comparison to $196,000 for all fiscal 2021. If gas prices remain as high as they are, it’ll be a 38% increase in spending last year, Campbell said.

“The whole economic situation is frustrating right now,” she said. “It's a challenging time for everything that we're trying to buy right now.”

The council allocates 1% of the town’s budget toward a contingency fund annually to use for backup. The public works and fire departments are nearing the end of their fuel budgets, Campbell said. The public works department includes the wastewater system, public parks, street construction and lawn services.

“We can't cut back in any way if 9-1-1 rings,” she said. “We answer it, so the ambulance has to run.”

Heather Sullivan, 30, has been a Keystone Heights for eight years and said the highest gas price she’s seen in Florida was $4.93 in recent months.

Sullivan said inflation isn’t to blame, but the companies ought to be.

“The barrel prices haven’t changed that much since last year, so it can only be the companies being greedy,” she said. “It’s insane.”

Sullivan commutes 25 minutes to her work as a diesel mechanic every day and said the drive is unavoidable.

“I think where I work most people bite the bullet and just go by themselves because we're so spread everywhere,” she said.

She said her daughter has gone into small debt with the rise of gas prices despite limiting travel and carpooling, and Sullivan’s had to help her daughter out.

Sullivan hasn’t seen her family in Lake County in four to five months since the quick raise in gas prices and has limited visits on holidays.

She could not comment on if the gas prices were tied to political matters.

Recreational gas prices have since lowered in Clay County and are on a continuous decline.

“Florida drivers are finally catching a break after several weeks of rising gas prices,” said AAA Spokesman Mark Jenkins.

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