Published: Nov 16, 2010 5:53 AM EST
Updated: Nov 16, 2010 2:53 AM EST

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - The city of Cape Coral is calling for an internal audit after thousands of gallons of fuel go missing.

A city consultant reports Cape Coral is using nearly 400,000 gallons in additional fuel in 2010 compared to 2006.  But council members say such a sharp increase doesn't match the reality of what's happened in the city in the last few years.

"It's a problem," consultant Bill Towler told the council, after he discovered a huge discrepency in the amount of fuel that was being pumped out of city gas tanks: far more being delivered to city pumping stations than is recorded as used by city vehicles.

Towler found unleaded fuel use has risen sharply over the past five years, contradicting a transition to a smaller city workforce.

"We have less people, we have less vehicles, and our gas consumption is going up," said council member Kevin McGrail.  "Help me understand that because it doesn't make any sense."

"There's a lot of possibilities here as to what could be driving these numbers the way they are.  And none of them make any sense," said Mayor John Sullivan.

Towler would not accuse city workers of stealing fuel, but he says a system to track gas used by city employees was disabled in 2007.  Data was also manually changed on many occasions, more than 1,000 times in 2009 alone.

Towler also notes the cape doesn't record how much gas is delivered to the city, making tracking it difficult.

Council members agree it's a huge problem that deserves more investigation.

"We really need to look at what we're doing and how we're consuming that fuel," Sullivan said.

In addition to approving the internal audit, council member also set a goal of returning to 2006 fuel usage levels, which Towler said could save the city $1 million next year.