W.Va. ambulance fuel costs over budget

The agency is running about 13 percent over the amount allotted to cover fuel costs so far this fiscal year

By Paul Fallon
Charleston Daily Mail

KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. — The Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority is feeling the pinch of increasing fuel costs.

The agency is running about 13 percent over the amount allotted to cover fuel costs so far this fiscal year, said Joe Lynch, executive director of the Ambulance Authority.

Authority officials budgeted about $480,000 to cover fuel costs, he said.

"If this keeps up, we'll end up running $70,000, $80,000 or even $100,000 over what we budgeted," he said.

This would mean the Ambulance Authority would have to move funds from other line items in its $18 million budget to cover the increase. Money that would have paid for uniforms or cleaning supplies could be used.

Last fiscal year's fuel budget was about $430,000, he said.

Although Lynch believes the agency will be able to cover its fuel costs, "this is a bare-bones budget."

If money could not be found to cover fuel costs in other line items, then services provided by the ambulance authority would have to be cut, he said.

Those services could include non-emergency transports for senior citizens who use the service to get from nursing homes to doctor's appointments.

"But we're not there yet," he said.

The agency responds to about 30,000 non-emergency calls a year, Lynch said.

But fuel costs could cause a problem with the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Lynch said. He and other officials will have to determine total fuel costs for this year and project the increase for next year.

The authority is currently paying $2.40 per gallon for gasoline and $2.50 per gallon for diesel fuel. It buys fuel at bulk prices from the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority, Lynch said.

The ambulance authority has 50 vehicles, 35 of which are ambulances. The others are used for transports and to deliver supplies, he said.

Thirty-two of the ambulances run on diesel fuel, but Lynch may buy more gasoline-powered vehicles because gas is cheaper than diesel.

"And we're looking at buying more fuel-efficient vehicles," Lynch said.

The ambulances get about seven miles per gallon, he said. He is looking at vehicles that get about 15 mpg.

Lynch said the agency also will strictly enforce no-idling policies in certain areas. For example, ambulance drivers are not permitted to idle while they are sitting at a hospital, he said.

Drivers also are not permitted to idle at the central station on Morris Street.

"But we have to be careful with no-idling policies because some diesel engines are hard to start when they're shut down after running hot," he said.

The ambulance authority responds to calls throughout Kanawha County. In total, the drivers rack up 1 million miles per month, Lynch said.

The agency receives the majority of its funding from charges for services, Lynch said. About $5.4 million comes from the county levy.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper believes the agency would have to look at raising fees or cutting services if the cost of fuel did not go back down in the upcoming fiscal year.

"There's just not much else to do," Carper said. "And I'm afraid the cost of fuel isn't going to go back down."

The authority performs regular maintenance on all vehicles to increase fuel efficiency, Carper said. For example, staff keeps tire pressure at the proper levels.

Copyright 2011 Charleston Newspapers

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