JACKSONVILLE, FL – Jacksonville taxpayers could save more than $7 million this year if fuel prices continue to drop. Expecting to pay an average of $3.75 a gallon for its gasoline and diesel, only about half of the city's fuel budget will be spent, according to Jacksonville.com.

City budget cycles run from October through September, meaning several months remain in this fiscal year. The savings would depend on normally volatile prices staying stable until then.

The city currently has penciled in $2 a gallon for gas and $2.40 for diesel - in line with estimates by the U.S. Energy Department of averages of $1.95 for gas and $2.28 for diesel for the rest of 2009.

Still, as preliminary talks get under way for the 2009-10 budget, Jacksonville's financial planners are optimistic this year's annual fuel expense will fall from the budgeted $15.6 million to the new estimate, $8.1 million.

Jacksonville's total budget is $972 million. 

The savings would help cut the city's losses after a year of unprecedented pain at the pump. Last fiscal year, the city developed a plan to phase out larger, less-efficient vehicles after $4-a-gallon gasoline contributed heavily to an $11.4 million jump in the fleet management budget. The phase-outs enabled financial planners to trim $3 million from this year's anticipated costs.

A spokesperson for Mayor John Peyton said the $7 million savings would be in addition to the fleet restructure and recent directives against engine idling in city vehicles. The fuel budget covers diesel for the city's garbage trucks as well as gasoline for sheriff's cruisers and other city fleet vehicles, such as SUVs used by Peyton and other constitutional officers.