City of Lawton way over budget on gas bill

Lawton_The City of Lawton has wrapped up its 2008 fiscal year, and as city officials crunch the numbers, they are finding that their gas bill was more than $1 million over budget, on top of the $1 million they had budgeted for 2007.

The city pays to operate dump trucks, police cars, city trucks, and gas-guzzling fire trucks that only get four miles-per-gallon.  However, unlike regular citizens, Lawton has no choice but to pay high gas prices since Lawton residents need to have the city's vehicles on the road.  "We do a lot of maintenance, drainage maintenance, our sewer rehab crew, and projects," says Lawton City Manager Larry Mitchell.  "So, across the board, we have a lot of activity and a lot of programs."

Not only does the city have to find the money to increase the gas budget for 2009 - which will come in the form of a $10 average increase on your water bill - officials are also trying to find ways to conserve.  "I asked all the department directors to stop idling vehicles, to think about how we schedule our projects, so that we aren't making a lot of extra trips, and try to economize wherever we can - and we're doing that," says Mitchell.

The city is considering switching police cars to V-6 engines, and perhaps even hybrids for city employees and inspectors forced to drive across town on a daily basis.  "We're basically like everyone else...we're scrambling, so to speak, in trying to figure out how we make those changes," says Mitchell.  "And sometimes those changes take a long period of time.  It's not something you can do in a month, or two months.  For the number of vehicles we have, it's going to be a long transition."

The City of Lawton matches federal funding to provide gas for the Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) buses, but there are other factors that have hurt the city's budget.  Last year, Lawton saw a significant increase in energy maintenance.  Gas prices are also hurting Lawton Public Schools which had an increase of 36% in their fuel bill from fiscal year 2007 - $90,000 over budget.