Skyrocketing gas prices may change some North Coast crime-fighting strategies and municipal public works operations.

But Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross refuses to cut back.

"We haven't cut back on patrols or cut back on what we're doing," he said.

The Seaside Police Department has seen an increase in its fuel expenditures over the last few budget cycles. The current budget allots $25,000 for "gas, oil and fuel." Chief Gross estimates that patrol cars use between $1,500 and $2,000 worth of fuel a month.

According to Gross, as of this week, the department was at about 98 percent use of the fuel budgeted for the 2007-08 budget cycle.

"We're just now hitting our peak driving period," said Gross.

For the next budget cycle, Gross expects the price of gas to continue to climb and has budgeted an extra $3,000 dollars to cover that cost. In the past five years, the department has doubled its budget for gas, fuel and oil costs.

In Warrenton, for example, City Manager and Chief of Police Bob Maxfield is urging some creative thinking. He is encouraging his patrol officers to park more often and create a visible deterrent. But with 18 square miles to patrol in Warrenton there's no easy way to cut down on the 700 to 800 gallons of gas Warrenton Police Department uses every month.

City garbage trucks use even more fuel. "It's the sanitation department that has trucks on the road all the time," Maxfield said. Instead of contracting with Western Oregon Waste like Clatsop County and the other cities do, Warrenton continues to run its own garbage collection service and recently purchased an expensive new garbage truck.

Gearhart Police Chief Jeff Bowman tried to account for an increase in gas prices in the last budgeting process and has done so again for the upcoming budget. He said the vehicle maintenance budget, which also covers fuel costs, has been increased by about 10 percent for next year's budget. In the current year, Bowman estimated that the department spends approximately $700 to $900 a month on gas expenses.

"The budget has been affected, but we haven't cut back on patrols," said Bowman. He said one of the things that saved his department money was the seven months without a third officer in the department. "We've operated about half the budget cycle without a third officer working, which has saved us money," said Bowman.

Bowman said the department uses the CFN Card Lock pump to fill up but that he wasn't sure whether it was saving the department money. He said the primary concern for officers was being able to fill up at "2 or 3 in the morning."

Astoria is hurting. "Our gas budget has increased," said Alan Oja, interim chief of the Astoria Police Department. "We haven't made any changes, but we may look at cutting the number of miles patrols drive."

Oja said he had anticipated an increase in gas thefts, but so far that has not happened. He said a lot of people have purchased locking gas caps for their vehicles and bulk fuel dealers have added extra security.

At the city of Astoria's Public Works Department, director Ken Cook is worried.

"We're anticipating it will make a big difference in our budget," said Cook. Even though his department buys gasoline wholesale, he said he expects the cost to double or even triple.

With high gas prices in mind, Cook is taking steps to make his department more efficient by combining trips and eliminating unnecessary driving. However, Cook said, "What we do is mainly driving. We can't restrict routine maintenance and repair activities. But we're trying to group several work orders together for a particular area."

Cook has also invested in LED warning lights for public works trucks, because they don't require keeping the engine idling to prevent the battery from wearing down.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is doing the same.

"It's awful. It does affect us," said Steve Carter, assistant manager of ODOT District 1, which includes Clatsop County. He said the agency is taking a number of steps to cut costs and increase efficiency.

Those steps include switching from old-fashioned flashers to LED lights on their trucks to reduce the time engines are left idling. "LED lights will run for hours and not drain the truck's battery," Carter said. Eventually, he said, the agency will go to LED lights on all vehicles. Even though LED lights cost more, it won't take long to recoup the extra expense, he said.

In the meantime, ODOT is experimenting with a low-voltage warning system that sounds an alarm when the truck battery starts running low - indicating it's time to turn the engine back on. The alarm system is useful when flashers must be left on for many hours at, for example, the scene of a fatal accident.

He said ODOT is using auxiliary cab heaters in diesel trucks that plow snow. The heaters use a pump to keep the coolant system flowing to provide heat and keep the windows defrosted without having to keep the engine running when the driver is eating lunch or waiting for the right time to plow. ODOT has deployed several hybrid vehicles in Region 2, one of them in this area, to see how they perform, Carter said. And he said ODOT has a goal of using 30 percent B-20 biodiesel fuel by 2010.

Work shifts for local ODOT maintenance crews have been changed to four 10-hour days this summer, instead of five 8-hour days. Carter said the new schedule keeps the fleet shut down on Fridays, saving gas and allowing the mechanic time to make repairs. And the driver of the ODOT incident response vehicle now limits his driving. Instead of going out on patrols, he fills out reports and monitors all emergency radio frequency while waiting for calls to respond to.

On the region's highways, the Oregon State Police continue to patrol regardless of the high cost of fuel.

"It's raising costs statewide for our agency, but locally we're not changing how we do business," said Lt. Duane Stanton, commanding officer of the Astoria-area office of the OSP.

"We only have seven troopers and we're supposed to have 12, so we can't reduce our service level."

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