Gas prices force troopers to change patrols

RALEIGH The Highway Patrol says steep gas prices have forced them to cancel a number of special patrols, which could put the public at risk.

The issue is a lack of funding.

The Highway Patrol says their fuel budget set by the state isn't keeping up with the rising cost of gas.

For many state troopers their office is their car.

It's a job where a fleet of nearly 1,900 vehicles are powered by costly fuel and last year, the agency went way over budget because of it.

"We're budgeted for $5.2 million for our 07, 08 fiscal budget and we're just over 8 million," Lt. Everett Clendenin said.

The soon-to-be signed state budget for the next fiscal year gave schools $35 million extra to help keep buses running. But the Highway Patrol says it's not getting a dime more.

Now troopers are required to do all the little things to save, like avoiding high speeds and long idles.

Overtime pay isn't an option, and that means a reduction in some special patrols which often target dangerous and even drunken drivers.

"We've had to cut our special enforcement campaigns where we're doing our speed crackdowns or DWI enforcement," Clendenin said.

"We didn't have a lot of extra money to deal with," Majority Leader Rep. Hugh Holliman said.

The democratic controlled general assembly says times are tough for everyone, including the state.

But representatives on both sides of the isle agree fuel for patrol cars isn't a place to be frugal.

"I would think that fuel for our law enforcement vehicles should be one of the top priorities we have and they're really is no excuse for not fully funding that request," Senate Leader Rep. Philip Berger said.

Rep. Berger voted against the budget; even though that budget is expected to be passed by the governor. Emergency appropriation bills can be drawn up later in the year to help fund different agencies.

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