Local agencies must find new fuel sources

Published 12:02 am Saturday, September 25, 2010

Local entities which previously have purchased fuel from the Covington County Commission will no longer be able to do so, County Administrator Brenda Petty said.

This change stems from an opinion issued by Attorney General Troy King, which says, “There is no statutory authority for a county commission to sell fuel.”

King said the powers and duties of a county commission are enumerated and those powers do not include selling fuel and the AG’s office did not find any other “statutory authorization for the county to do so.”

The Alabama Examiners of Public Accounts recently notified Petty that the commission must comply with the opinion.

Effective Oct. 1, the commission will no longer sell fuel to any other entities.

“You will, of course, need to make other arrangements for the purchase of fuel for the operation of your respective agencies,” Petty wrote in a letter to agencies. “During the fuel shortage a few years ago, we found that Wright Express fuel cards were a viable option for the purchase of fuel.”

Petty said in her letter, the county realizes this change will possibly create a hardship for the entities that have depended on the county for fuel years and apologized for the inconvenience.

Among the entities affected are the City of Florala and Covington County Schools.

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said the change will have a big impact on his city.

“It has a huge impact on us,” he said. “Fuel is a substantial cost for us. We’re trying to find a way to absorb the cost, but right now, we’re not sure what the plan is.”

Presently, there is a fuel tank located at what used to be the District 3 yard. Florala uses fuel from the tank and pays the county each month for the gallons used.

Additionally, there are pumps located at W.S. Harlan for county school use.

Covington County Schools Superintendent Terry Holley said the notice was a surprise, but he remains optimistic.

“The only area it will hurt will be in the Florala area,” he said. “I understand that it was not the local county commissioners.”

Holley’s biggest concern is the timing.

“The timing was not great,” he said. “We were notified only nine days before Oct. 1. I wish we had some lee-time to try and challenge and get another opinion.”

Holley said he and other school officials are looking at some things to revamp what they are doing in order to rectify the problem.

“We are all trying to work together,” he said. “We do have fuel at W.S. Harlan, but we don’t have gas and other things we need.”

Holley said the change will not affect any of the other schools in the system.

“It’s workable, just aggravating,” he said.

Both Petty and Holley said the Association of County Commissions of Alabama have requested King reconsider and reverse his decision on this opinion, but until that opinion changes, the county must comply with the opinion.