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Publish Date: 3/5/2005

Price of gas on rise
Increases put crimp in local crime patrols


LONGMONT — Gas prices fluctuated Thursday night and Friday, with some area stations raising prices by about 10 cents a gallon, and the American Automobile Association warns that further increases are likely.

The increases are putting a crimp on patrols by the Boulder County Sheriff’s office, which blew over its allotted 2004 gas budget by $92,000 because of already-high prices. And there appears to be little relief in sight, with AAA predicting record-high gas prices in the coming months.

The statewide average for regular gas was $1.94 Friday, according to AAA. At the same time last year, the price was $1.62 per gallon. Last May marked the highest recorded price for gas in the area, with an average of $1.99, AAA said.

In Longmont, prices jumped from $1.85 per gallon Thursday morning to $1.97 Friday at several stations, according to an informal Times-Call survey of prices. However, some of those same stations again lowered prices to below $1.90 a gallon Friday night. AAA said the average price in the Longmont-Boulder area rose from $1.88 Thursday to $1.89 Friday, up from $1.79 a month ago.

At the Gas-4-Less on Main Street, clerk Cy Sherman said he’d been told to raise prices by 2 cents a gallon Thursday and by another 4 cents Friday. As of about 1 p.m., the price for unleaded was $1.85.

“When that arrow goes up, I’m out (changing the prices on the sign) pretty much every day,” Sherman said. “And it’s on a steady increase.”

March is usually when gas refineries slow production to perform routine maintenance before switching to a different summer blend of fuel. Sherman said tanker-drivers told him they’re having to wait longer at local refineries because there are fewer “racks” available to fill tankers.

AAA said there’s also increased worldwide demand for oil but not a corresponding increase in production. The reduction in availability means an increase in prices, AAA said.

It also means Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle is watching his budget closely. Last year, Pelle’s deputies drove 1.9 million miles to patrol the county. Although the county buys gas at wholesale prices and doesn’t pay taxes because it’s a governmentagency , Pelle said that’s still a lot of gallons.

He said he’s already restricted the number of random patrols in the county and ordered a number of V-6 Chevrolet Impalas to replace V-8 Crown Victoria patrol cars. The Impalas get about 22 miles per gallon, about 5 mpg better than the Crown Victorias that deputies prefer.

“Multiply that (fuel savings) by 1.9 million miles and you get a lot of savings,” Pelle said. “We’re trying to buy smaller vehicles with smaller motors.”

There is some urgency to Pelle’s efforts. This year, the sheriff’s office received a $70,000 increase in its gas budget, which is not even enough to cover what deputies burned last year, and prices keep going up, Pelle said.

Pelle said he looked into hybrid vehicles but decided they were still too expensive and not large enough for deputies who carry everything from shotguns to snowshoes to prisoners.

Pelle said his office has about 110 vehicles. About half of those are SUVs and pickup trucks, which are needed to get to mountain and rural areas, he added.

“It’s a big county and we can’t quit going to calls,” the sheriff said. “They have just got a huge amount of gear to carry and you can’t put that in a Toyota hybrid.”

Like Boulder County, Longmont city government buys its gas in bulk and doesn’t have to pay taxes on it. But since the wholesale price is also rising, the city is paying more, said Bruce Maysilles, Longmont’s fleet manager.

Last week, the city paid about $1.37 per gallon for regular gas, Maysilles said. Since then it has risen by about 20 cents a gallon, but he didn’t have exact figures.

“Basically, our price fluctuates like everybody else’s,” Maysilles said.

Longmont spent $432,000 on gas and diesel fuel in 2004, he added.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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