Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salem paying the price of ignoring the signs

More than a year ago, a citizen told a meeting of the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study group (SKATS) -- the federally required metropolitan planning agency for the Mid- Willamette Valley Council of Governments -- that oil at $100 a barrel would soon be a fond memory, and that instead of planning an unnecessary third bridge for the Willamette, they needed to start thinking about how to preserve vital public services like police, fire, and ambulance, and to be thinking about how the impact of high oil prices would devastate their budgets.

Oil was under $60 a barrel at that point, and the SKATS members were, with the exception of Lloyd Chapman, uniformly unreceptive to the message. The SKATS members went on about their business, figuring out how to pour more pavement to serve the ever more cars and driving that they expected to see. Like ostriches sticking their collective head in the sand.

Today, the Salem Statesman Journal reports that the ostrich strategy doesn't work all that well:

Gas burns through Salem city budget

Spike in fuel prices was not factored into its planning

The spike in diesel and gasoline prices has city government suffering from sticker shock along with consumers.

In the next fiscal year, fuel for Salem's fleet of police cars, fire trucks, public works vehicles and other equipment is expected to cost nearly $559,000 more than was estimated last fall.

Salem City Council on Monday approved additional money for fuel in the city's 2008-09 fiscal budget. City funds set aside for fuel purchases will go from little more than $1.2 million to about $1.8 million.

"We knew there was upward pressure on fuel over the last few years, but we didn't expect it to skyrocket,"said Debra Neville, Salem's budget officer. . . .