High gas prices hurt local government - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

High gas prices hurt local government

Americans are feeling the pinch at the pump, as gas prices inch closer to four dollars per gallon. But they're not alone. Government leaders say if the trend continues, they'll have to make some daunting decisions. Americans are feeling the pinch at the pump, as gas prices inch closer to four dollars per gallon. But they're not alone. Government leaders say if the trend continues, they'll have to make some daunting decisions.

(WMC-TV) - Americans are feeling the pinch at the pump, as gas prices inch closer to four dollars per gallon. But they're not alone. Government leaders say if the trend continues, they'll have to make some daunting decisions.

Most of us have a fixed budget according to our income.

Local governments are no different.

The higher gas prices mean they have a tougher hill to climb to serve citizens and they're already running on fumes.

"It's something we've been monitoring very closely," said George Little, Memphis CAO.

Both the Memphis and Shelby County CAOs say the sharp rise in the gas price piles yet another weight on the budget burden.

"If gasoline prices go up, then by definition you have to find a way to save, because you've got a fixed budget," said Harvey Kennedy, Shelby County CAO.

Since the housing crash of 2008, governments have juggled the loss of property tax income with taxpayer needs.

Now AAA reports that the national average for regular unleaded fuel increased 13 percent in February, turning citizens and governments alike into a tailspin.

The city usually spends $14 million per year on gas, but increased gas prices catapulted it $4 million over budget.

The city is talking with MLGW about switching to compressed natural gas and they want to convert other vehicles to that same cheaper fuel.

"As it is, we are encouraging staff to certainly carpool if there's a meeting and operate their vehicles at a lower speed," said Little.

The county spends $2.7 million on gas.

Officials say if gas prices continue the upward trend, personnel - the most cost-consuming part of the budget - could take a hit.

"If there are positions that become vacant and we determine that we can find a way to continue operations without them, then we'll eliminate those positions," said Kennedy.

But both CAOs say emergency services are off limits.

"We're going to continue to deliver the kinds of services we need to, especially in fire and police," said Little.

"The sheriff can't curtail driving," said Kennedy. "He's got to patrol the neighborhoods. They have to serve warrants. You've got to transport the prisoners."

Government leaders say the alarm will ring if gas prices double. That's when they'll be running below empty.

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