Sharp, unexpected increases in gasoline, heating oil and natural gas costs forced the Nevada Board of Examiners to Wednesday recommend adding $2.8 million to the Department of Corrections and Nevada Highway Patrol budgets.
Deputy Director of Corrections Daryl Rexwinkel told the board, consisting of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general, the vast majority of their $1.9 million request is to cover projected shortfalls in utilities budgets for different prisons in Nevada. He said that is only 75 percent of the projected $2.5 million shortfall prisons will face by the end of the fiscal year June 30, but that they are trying to cover the difference by cutting back any controllable spending.
The recommendations must be approved by the Legislative Interim Finance Committee.
Rexwinkel said the corrections department was budgeted to spend $1.3 million for fuel oil. With energy price hikes, he said the actual cost will be 88 percent higher - $2.4 million. Natural gas costs, he said, will be at least a half million more than budgeted.
While NHP also suffered from rising costs for heating and power, Col. Dave Hosmer said the majority of their shortfall is the cost of gasoline to run patrol cars.
"Over $614,000 of it is fuel," he said.
Hosmer said another chunk of the shortfall was caused by the highway patrol's much improved success in filling vacant trooper positions and keeping those officers. Double-digit pay increases, new cars and equipment have convinced more officers not to defect to local police agencies, which, he said, is good.
But, he said, the consequence is they are using up their personnel budget rather than having "salary savings" from vacancies.
He said the other factor is increasing workload. The number of accidents investigated by the highway patrol increased more than 1,000 to 19,465 from 2004 to 2005 and the number of violations written by troopers rose 12,000 to 207,770.
Altogether, he asked for and received board approval for an $872,202 appropriation from the Interim Finance Committee, which would come from the state's contingency fund.
Gov. Kenny Guinn agreed the increases were beyond the control of either agency, saying utility increases in particular have hit all across state government.
The university system Board of Regents was told last week that the University of Nevada, Reno will have to approach the finance committee to permit moving money from other areas to utilities to cover a $600,000 shortfall.
Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said other university campuses may also have utility bill shortfalls, but should be able to cover them by moving funds around as UNR has proposed.
He said a bigger concern for the state is the offices managed by Buildings and Grounds. Those agencies pay their utilities through "rent" charged them by Buildings and Grounds. He said the department can cover some increases through its reserves, and by delaying projects. However, if the increases go beyond that, it would have to raise rents charged to state agencies.
That, Clinger said, would require calculating the increases to impose on every agency in a state-owned building and either covering them with funding in the agency budgets or asking the finance committee for more money to pay the bills.
"We would look under every rock before doing that," he said.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.