County battles gas prices

Private citizens aren't the only people in Catawba County experiencing an economic crunch since gas prices started to increase.

County agencies, that provide essential transportation and response services to residents, are also looking for ways to cut fuel costs during an increasingly difficult budget year.

Catawba County Schools has about 246 buses it uses to transport the county's students to school and other activities. Some of those buses run double and triple routes to accommodate the needs of every student, said CCS transportation director Cecil W. Davis.

The county's newer buses hold 100 gallons of diesel fuel, and the older models hold about 60 gallons. The fleet travels about 2.6 million miles annually, or about 260,000 miles a month, Davis said.

CCS pays about $3.22 a gallon for diesel fuel.

State funding for the county's buses for the 2010-11 school year is based on a diesel fuel price of $2.16 a gallon. That price jumped to $2.51 a gallon in February, prompting the state to provide CCS with an additional $110,000 for fuel costs.

Davis said Thursday additional funding could be available in May, but that hasn't been confirmed from the state.

Increasing fuel prices are nothing new for the Catawba County Sheriff's Office.

"This is something we've been combatting for years," said Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid.

The department has about 76 county cars that officers use on a daily basis.

"We've kind of gotten away from the old shift meetings where everyone comes into the office," Reid said. "This keeps (officers) from using more gas to drive into the office."

The sheriff's office jurisdiction within the county is divided into four zones. Each officer is assigned to a zone, and Reid said the assignments are kept as close as possible to where the officer lives.

Deputies leave their homes when shifts start, and immediately they're at work. The addition of laptop computers inside officers' vehicles also helps with fuel costs, Reid said.

"If you see a marked unit sitting in a church parking lot, he's not just sitting there," Reid said. "He's doing his field reports out there."

Deputies can complete their reports and submit them online without having to drive back to the sheriff's office in Newton.

Gas prices in Hickory are, on average, about $3.50 a gallon.