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Sheriff may exceed fuel budget by 100 pct.

Polk County commissioners took issue with Sheriff Chris Abril Monday over the number of miles his officers are driving in the current budget year.

The sheriff&squo;s office is on pace to exceed its original fuel budget by 100 percent, largely because of rapidly rising gas prices, but also because the sheriff&squo;s office is driving much more.

Through the first 10 months of this budget year, the sheriff&squo;s office has consumed about 21 percent more gas than last year, according to county figures. The sheriff&squo;s office has been using about 528 more gallons each month than last year.

The sheriff&squo;s office started fiscal year 2007-2008 in June with an original fuel budget of $48,000, but that was later amended to $92,300. The sheriff&squo;s office has spent more than $83,000 so far on fuel and is on pace to exceed its amended budget by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30, say county officials.

Polk County commissioner Tom Pack said the sheriff&squo;s office consumed about 3,000 gallons of gas last month compared to just 2,000 gallons in November of 2006, before Abril took over office. Pack questioned the high fuel consumption during a time of high gas prices. County officials noted that other county departments are only about 20 percent over budget on fuel.

Sheriff Abril said his office drives more miles so it can protect the citizens.

&dquo;Do you want to be safe?&dquo; Abril asked Pack. &dquo;The county hasn&squo;t ever been patrolled as it is right now.&dquo;

The higher fuel consumption comes despite requests from commissioners last year to curtail spending in the department. Last November, county commissioners froze the sheriff&squo;s hiring because of projections that the sheriff&squo;s office would be $60,000 over budget&bsp; by year end. At the time, Sheriff Abril agreed to freeze the positions and he said he would try to patrol in zones to save on fuel.

The sheriff&squo;s office averaged 3,211 gallons of gas consumed per month from July through November. Following the November hiring freeze, the sheriff&squo;s office consumed 2,970 gallons in December, 2007; 2,839 in January, 2008; 2,685 in February, 2008; 3,215 gallons in March, 2008 and 3,010 gallons in April, 2008.

For the 2008-2009 budget year, which begins July 1, the county is preparing to spend much more on fuel for the sheriff&squo;s office. The county&squo;s preliminary &squo;08-&squo;09 budget includes $134,600 for fuel costs, up from the $65,464 actually spent in fiscal year 2006-2007 and the approximately $100,000 expected to be spent in the current year, &squo;07-&squo;08. The preliminary budget amount is based on about 2,800 gallons per month at $4 per gallon.

Abril says he wants to purchase Dodge Charger vehicles instead of Ford Crown Victorias because Chargers get better gas mileage and can be purchased for a few thousand dollars less than Crown Victorias.

County officials say the county currently has Crown Victorias and it would be too expensive to change the entire fleet. Commissioners say they know how Crown Victorias perform and have a local dealer to purchase and maintain the vehicles in Stott&squo;s Ford. Some commissioners added they don&squo;t want to purchase Dodge Chargers because they have heard of mechanical problems experienced by other government offices that use them.

County manager Ryan Whitson previously suggested the sheriff&squo;s office consider using Ford Fusion vehicles, which get about 28 miles per gallons, to reduce fuel costs.

However, Abril said the wiring in a Fusion &dquo;is not designed to handle the additional loads of lights, sirens, and radios that are installed in law enforcement vehicles.&dquo; He says it is better to stay with vehicles that are equipped to be used as police vehicles.