By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Two auditors have questioned Franklin County’s use of credit cards to fill vehicles at pump prices when its Highway Department has cheaper fuel available.
And legislators intend to discuss the issue more when they meet today to review a cost-benefit analysis that they asked County Manager Thomas Leitz to prepare.
Leitz says not traveling to the Highway Garage on Route 30 to gas up saves money, as it involves less driver time and reduced wear and tear on the fleet of public-transportation buses and county vehicles
But County Auditor Fran Perry told legislators that fuel bills are $1,000 higher a month now than they were before the gas cards were issued in mid March to Public Transportation, the Building and Grounds Department, the District Attorney’s Office, Emergency Services and the Sheriff’s Department.
Roger Lis, the county’s independent auditor, said in his annual audit review that the county was inappropriately charged sales tax on its pump purchases, “so we have to ask for the money back. It creates another process, so we have to look at it.”
He also said the program is “costing us more money than before” and that a new policy and clear procedure needs to be created for users to follow.
BUYING COSTLIER GAS
The Highway Department buys its fuel in bulk at state-contract prices.
According to documents the Press-Republican received from the county auditor and County Highway Department through Freedom of Information Act requests, gas-card users paid an average of $3.12 per gallon for unleaded fuel (including tax) compared to $2.99 a gallon at the Highway Garage fuel station in April.
Diesel was $3.54 a gallon at the pump and $3.14 a gallon at the Highway Garage that month.
In May, the average price, including tax, at the pump for unleaded gas was $3.12 a gallon, compared to $2.96 at the Highway Garage. The cost was $3.54 a gallon for diesel outside compared to $3.14 a gallon at the garage.
In June, the average pump price for unleaded was $3.06 per gallon at gas-station pumps, also including tax, while the county charged $2.98 a gallon. Diesel fuel was $3.46 a gallon at the pump and $3.16 a gallon at the Highway Garage.
When the program was discussed in March, Leitz said the expense of driving public transportation buses from their home base at the former Cleyn and Tinker Building to the Route 30 Highway Garage “adds up quick” and that paying at the pumps with a card would “be cheaper than what we bill for.”
He said a public-transportation bus gets 6 miles per gallon and that drivers would save 8 to 10 miles in travel time by not making the trip to the Highway Garage to get gas.
The Highway Garage is 2.7 miles from the Cleyn and Tinker Building via Main Street and 2.9 miles via Raymond Street.
He said further savings could be had if smaller fuel tanks could be placed at the Highway Garage since fewer gallons would need to be on hand due to decreased fuel demand.
Paperwork would also be reduced so the county could use paperless billing for fuel transactions, he said.
“We’re paying more in fuel but less in time and wear-and-tear on vehicles,” Leitz said.
“For the first time, we have accountability, and drivers don’t have to go so far off route to get fuel, and we don’t pay the drivers.”
Leitz was reminded that the drivers are not county employees; they are contract drivers through the Office for the Aging.
“A thousand dollars a month is significant,” said Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay).
“If it were a hundred bucks, that’s OK. But I can’t see spending $1,000 more a month.”
Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@Press-Republican.com