- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

RICHMOND, Va. City and county officials across Virginia say residents won't have to bear the burden of higher costs of gasoline needed to fuel school buses, ambulances and other government vehicles. They say taxes won't be raised and services won't be cut.

"It would have to get really bad, like four or five dollars a gallon, before we'd even look at a tax increase to pay for something like higher gas prices," said Catheryn Whitesell, a management and budget analyst for Virginia Beach. "I can't imagine anybody raising taxes to pay for the difference."

Miss Whitesell said the city pays about 95 cents a gallon, wholesale, to fuel city vehicles. She said departments are responsible for absorbing extra fuel costs.

Virginia Beach's 2000 fuel budget topped out at $1.4 million, and for 2001 officials budgeted $1.45 million.

"But those budget numbers were calculated before the fuel increase," Miss Whitesell added. "They actually based the budget on an average cost of 92 cents a gallon for next year."

The national government said gasoline prices should peak this month and decline into the summer months, revising previous expectations of soaring fuel prices going into the vacation season.

Henrico County budget director John Vitoulkas said that even if the county hadn't already amended the budget to add $224,000 to the gasoline account for this fiscal year, residents wouldn't have suffered either higher taxes or reduced services.

"One of the last things a county would ever do is reduce services," Mr. Vitoulkas said. "Almost all city and county budgets have flexibilities in certain areas, so you'd just use some of that flexibility in the short term to pay for something like higher gas prices."

Mr. Vitoulkas said the county has already increased next year's budget for gasoline and diesel fuel by $150,000. This year's budget totaled more than $3.5 million.

In Roanoke, D. Darwin Roupe, who oversees supply management for the city, said departments have used 20 percent more of their gasoline budgets this year compared with last year.

Mr. Roupe agreed the last thing the city would do is decrease services or increase taxes paid by residents.

"I think our political environment is such that we would even look at putting off a building project before even considering increasing taxes," Mr. Roupe said.

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