Fuel expenditures for Hamilton County government have risen by more than 40 percent in the past four years, and some officials are calling for fuel-efficiency standards for the county's fleet.
Commissioner Joe Graham brings up fuel efficiency every time vehicle purchases come before the commission.
"There's a lot of vehicles out there, all makes and models, that are getting 25 to 30 miles to the gallon pretty easily ... and most of the stuff we have [is] getting 15 to 18 miles to the gallon," Graham said Friday. "If we go ahead and buy some more fuel-efficient vehicles, we'll double our mileage."
From the 2010 to 2012 fiscal years, average tax-exempt gasoline prices for the county increased from $2 per gallon to $2.82, a 41 percent jump. According to finance department records, costs spiked from $1.06 million to $1.51 million, or 42 percent. So far in fiscal year 2013, which ends June 29, the county has spent $1.08 million on gasoline, about $20,000 more than in all of 2010.
Had the average mileage for every car been doubled last year, the county would have kept about $750,000. Even a smaller increase in efficiency could bring big savings.
Acknowledging that the county's entire fleet can't be replaced overnight, Graham said he wants to place fuel standards on future purchases.
"That's what I'm hoping to do, that we set up a standard to say a car has to get X number of miles per gallon before the county buys it," Graham said.
The exact number of cars and trucks the county owns was not immediately available Friday, but Assistant Finance Administrator Al Kiser said the fleet includes vehicles owned by various county departments, the sheriff's office and area volunteer fire departments.
On Thursday, Kiser said county purchasing officers look at mileage as one factor when buying vehicles, but sometimes the extra costs associated with new fuel-efficient vehicles outweigh the fuel savings.
And for some jobs, such as those in public works, vehicles must be able to carry large loads or traverse difficult terrain, which standard fuel-efficient cars may not be able to do.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said saving money on gas would be a boon, but replacing all of the county's fleet will take years.
Graham said Friday that no matter how long it takes, it's a must-do for the county.
"That's the way we have to go; we have no choice," Graham said. "Fuel prices are going to continue to go up. We're going to have to get more fuel efficient."
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.
Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...