Gas price drops help county, but budget director says prices may not last

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By AJ Vicens

Soaring fuel prices this summer forced Jefferson County to commit extra money to the county vehicles' gas tanks. But even though the recent price collapse will result in some savings, the county's budget director cautions that the low prices might not last.

The county commissioners approved more than $930,000 in contingency funds for the county's fleet fund and the sheriff's patrol fund on Nov. 18 to meet unforeseen fuel costs. When Buck Benke, the fleet services manager, and other county leaders asked for more money, they were looking at fuel prices well above $3 per gallon.

Just a few short months later, Benke said he's paying $1.99 per gallon of diesel and $1.26 per gallon for unleaded.

"It's a huge savings," Benke said.

Benke manages the county's fleet of cars and trucks. The county burns through an average of 28,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline per month, and 41,000 gallons of diesel. With the July highs of $3.52 and $4.10 per gallon of unleaded and diesel, respectively, the monthly savings comes out to $86,500 for unleaded and $63,280 for a month of diesel fuel.

But the money the county authorized for higher fuel prices Nov. 18 won't be wasted.

"We may still need the money," said Jon Johnson, Jefferson County's budget director. "Perhaps we'll require less, but I still think we will have to use some of that."

Johnson said that as easily as fuel prices went down, they could go right back up. The extra money is there for individual departments to authorize fuel overages, and can be spent only on fuel. If the money isn't used, it will go back to the county's contingency fund, Johnson said.

In the dog days of summer, it looked like gas prices would just keep going up.

According to AAA, gas prices in the Denver area peaked in July. On July 17, unleaded fuel hit a high of $4.01 per gallon. Diesel peaked the next day at $4.80 per gallon. The price for a gallon of unleaded fuel has dropped more than 36 percent since then, sitting at $1.84 on Nov. 21. Diesel has dropped more than 42 percent since then, and was at the $2.75 per gallon mark Nov. 21.

"I would have lost a big bet," Benke said. "I never guessed we'd get back under $2.50."

Johnson agreed.

"I frankly never thought we would see that," Johnson said, referring to $2 per gallon fuel.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.