High gas prices affecting eastern Iowa sheriffs - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

High gas prices affecting eastern Iowa sheriffs

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CLAYTON COUNTY (KWWL) -

Eastern Iowans' pocketbooks continue to feel the pinch, with a gallon of regular unleaded gas costing a statewide average of $3.82 Wednesday.

That's according to AAA, which also said that at this time last year, that same gallon was almost 20 cents cheaper. Even one month ago, the price of that gallon of gas was 15 cents lower.

Iowa's highest recorded price for regular unleaded gas was $4.02 per gallon, which was in July of 2008.

In bigger counties, sheriff's deputies have quite a distance to cover.

Consider Clayton County. It's Iowa's fifth largest geographic county and the largest one in northeast Iowa, but when it comes to tax base, it falls somewhere around 40th of the state's 99 counties.

Therefore, there are limited taxpayer funds available to pay for a lot of fuel. When you have nearly 800 square miles to patrol, the cost adds up, Clayton County sheriff Mike Tschirgi said.

"We had a deputy meeting two, three weeks ago, and I informed the guys we need to cut back on fuel because of the higher prices," Tschirgi said.

He estimates his department covers at least 1,500 miles per day.

"I want them to patrol their areas, but if it's not a lot of traffic, do we really necessarily need to be out there running radar, or is there something more constructive we can do in the office?" he said.

The Clayton County Sheriff's Office has $60,000 this fiscal year to spend on fuel. It's a budget item that was set last year, during a time of lower gas prices.

"My budget's been about the same the last few years," Tschirgi said. "This next year, it may have to go up a little bit or we're going to have to cut back in some areas."

Transport deputy Chad Werger probably spends the most time on the road out of anybody in the department. He's the deputy that brings inmates to and from facilities.

"On average, I put on about 3,000 miles a month," Werger said.

There's only so much fuel conserving a department can do, he said.

"Our job is to be out there. To be observant. To protect the community and to make sure people are safe, and if we can't do that, it's pointless for us to be out here," Werger said.

"Worst case scenario," Tschirgi said, "if fuel really gets carried away, we'll have to double guys up or do less patrol. Maybe drive the more economical vehicles than the four-wheel drives."

On Wednesday, KWWL reached out to sheriffs throughout the viewing area.

The Black Hawk County Sheriff's Department said it has managed to leverage gas purchases through an agreement with the county and Waterloo, so it's not tied to market price. The department also has new vehicle which get better fuel mileage than its older ones.

The Linn County Sheriff's Department said official there met with the county board of supervisors a few weeks ago to discuss the fuel situation. As long as things don't change drastically, folks there said, they'll be in the clear this year and next when it comes to budgeting for fuel.

In Dubuque County, the sheriff's department said it's right where it should be on its fuel budget. Officials are not restricting patrolling, but they are asking deputies to shut off their cars when possible.

Officials with the Fayette and Tama counties' sheriffs' departments said they've asked deputies to be mindful of their fuel usage.

Tama County sheriff Dennis Kucera said he thinks his department is doing a good job conserving gas.

However, "the prices don't help the budget any," he said. "Who knows what the outcome is going to be at the end of the budget year if the price keeps increasing?" he said.

Tschirgi said sheriffs' departments have some federal and state taxes that can help offset the cost of gas.

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