Cortland’s First Responders Grapple with Gas Prices

Cortland Police & Fire Department logos. (Photos provided by the Cortland Police Department and the Cortland Fire Department).

First responders in the City of Cortland with a set fuel budget are making it work amid a surge in gas prices that dates back to the start of this year.

The prices in Cortland County today are still the highest in Central New York and among the highest in the state. Gas is currently sitting at an average price of $4.887 in the county, according to data from the American Automobile Association (AAA). The state average is set at $4.788, while the national average is at $4.655, AAA data shows.

These increases at the pump have first responders hoping for eventual relief.

“It’s putting the pressure on us just the way it is putting the pressure on everybody else,” City police chief Paul Sandy said.

Sandy noted the department is part of a larger fuel sharing agreement with school districts across the county that generally drives fuels costs down.

 “Even (the better rate) has increased dramatically over the last six months, to the point where we are paying well over $2 more than we are used to,” Sandy added. “It is going to be tight and we may have to ask the (Common) Council to make an inter-budget transfer from one line to another to make sure we stay within budget. We will see if prices come down and ease the pain a little.”

Typically, Sandy said, the department was spending $2 per gallon prior to the gas increases experienced this year. 

“We’ve got approximately $50,000 budgeted for fuel,” he said. “As of July 6, we have spent about $30,000 in five months.”

Despite the soaring operational costs, Sandy said the department will not reduce any of their scheduled patrols and services.

“Since we are out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week patrolling and being proactive, it is hard to apply any mitigation strategies,” he said. “Officers are out there responding to calls and looking for incidents where we need to get involved. If we eliminate that proactive patrol to save money then the citizens aren’t getting the service they deserve.”

Ultimately, Sandy noted he expects things to stabilize. 

“We are hoping that gas prices will come down and everything will square up,” he said.

Fuel costs for the Cortland Fire Department are no better.

“We have more than doubled our fuel cost in the last three months,” City fire chief Wayne Friedman said. “At this point, as far as moving money within the budget, I will have to move money from other lines to make up for unforeseen costs.” 

The issue with interfund transfers, Friedman said, is that fire departments operate within spending plans with little-to-no wiggle room.

“The goal is to not have costs run into the red,” he added.

On an average year, the department allocates anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 for fuel costs, which include the more expensive diesel used by fire trucks. If it comes to it, Friedman said he is ready to request aid in budget movement from the Common Council.

“I am not terribly worried,” he said. “We will manage it and do the best we can to keep the trucks on the road no matter what. We will figure out a way.”