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Perry Leonard, superintendent of the Crawford County Highway Department, fills up a county truck with fuel from one of the new tanks installed at the highway garage in English. Only authorized personnel can get fuel from the tanks, and they are under surveillance from a security camera. Photo by Chris Adams

Fuel just portion of cost savings

Highway department also has sold scrap, reduced comp time, purchased bulk oil, sought Internet deals

April 04, 2012
With gasoline prices north of $4 per gallon and likely to continue climbing, Crawford County Highway Department superintendent Perry Leonard believes the new bulk fuel system, with its locked-in prices, was installed just in time.

"Just having it in for the last two weeks, we've saved over $700," he said Thursday afternoon from his office at the county highway garage in English.

Using approximately 60,000 gallons of fuel per year, the highway department, if the area cost of fuel stays 50 cents higher per gallon than the locked-in prices of $3.54 for gasoline, $3.59 for off-road diesel and $3.76 for premium diesel, would save $20,000 during the current contract, good for a minimum of 40,000 gallons or through Dec. 31, whichever comes first. Once the minimum is reached, a new contract can be signed or the department, if it believes prices will decrease, can wait to lock in a price and pay the daily rate in the interim.

"It is so much easier now for (Leonard) doing the budget," Sandy Richardson, the clerk at the highway department, said.

Jackson-Jennings Cooperative recently installed a 1,000-gallon premium diesel tank along with a 500-gallon tank for both off-road diesel and gasoline. A keypad for a PIN (personal identification number) system also will be installed so that only authorized personnel will be able to get fuel. The PIN system also will prevent the wrong fuel type from inadvertently being placed in a vehicle.

In addition to highway department employees, the county's Emergency Medical Services and Sheriff's Department will be given PINs, allowing them to save on their fuel budgets.

The bulk fuel system may be the most visible cost-savings effort by the highway department, but it isn't the only one since Leonard became superintendent a little more than a year ago.

Better planning allowed the department to use about 1,800 fewer gallons of fuel in 2011 than it did the previous year, Leonard said, adding the department checked area stations each Monday to find the lowest prices.

The department also has sold scrap to help with utility costs, has cut down on comp time by Leonard handling many after-hours calls himself and laying chips ahead of a snowfall since it requires less work later, purchased two 260-gallon tanks of oil at a savings of $3 per gallon and instituted a policy where all purchases must first be approved.

Leonard also approached the commissioners a few months ago about getting a credit card for the department so it could purchase parts and equipment from often less-expensive dealers on the Internet. Doing so already has saved hundreds of dollars, he said. In addition, the county does not incur any finance charges since state law prohibits municipalities from carrying a credit card balance.

Perhaps the most creative cost-savings effort was building a new drag in-house, providing the department with a $20,000 piece of equipment for $7,000 and allowing the savings to be used in other needed areas, Leonard said.

"That paid for a lot of tools we got here in the shop," he said, noting the more repairs the department's mechanics can make themselves, the less it has to pay to more expensive outside shops.

Finding ways to stretch dollars is extremely important for the highway department, considering that its little more than $1 million budget, which comes from the state road distribution formula, barely covers personnel expenses and must be supplemented by $850,000 of county riverboat gaming revenue.

With that budget, the department, which has 24 employees, is responsible for maintaining 840 miles of county roads (the state is responsible for state highways and Interstate 64). That includes removing downed trees, snow removal, mowing of right-of-way, dragging gravel roads, clearing ditches and maintaining school bus turnarounds, culverts and bridges.

If there is enough money, it also includes paving; however, Leonard, in an effort to get the most bang for the buck, prefers to chip-and-seal instead. He noted that for what it costs to blacktop one mile of road, the department can chip-and-seal three miles.

"We just don't have the money," he said, adding, if the county can put a new lift on chip-and-seal roads every three or four years, they can be maintained. "If we could get 60 miles on a rotation, I think that would be a good thing."

Richardson, who has been the clerk at the department for years, said the department is running smooth, both financially and with employee morale, and she credits Leonard's management style for that.

"You're only as good as the guys working for you. Good group," Leonard said.

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