In Berlin, there is nothing left for town officials and Berlin Fire Company (BFC) representatives to do but talk in private and reach a compromise through the help of an unbiased mediator.
If it has to wait till January, that’s acceptable, but the important part is for an objective, third-party mediator to bring together Mayor Gee Williams, Administrator Tony Carson and colleagues and BFC President David Fitzgerald, Chief Marc Brown and representatives.
We think the dialogue needs to happen immediately to ease community concerns and repair the fractured relationship, but if it must wait till early next year then scheduling needs to begin now so all involved parties can agree to a date in early January.
The ongoing squabble between the town and its fire company reached a new level of angst at last week’s Mayor and Council meeting. That’s saying something because the relationship has been sour for months.
Before the meeting dissolved into something altogether unproductive, the BFC’s leadership said all the right things. It’s here to protect and serve, but its long-term ability to do that has been severely jeopardized by the town stripping $600,000 from its operating budget. Fitzgerald, Brown and BFC attorney Joe Moore basically begged the mayor to allow for a mediation hearing to discuss what can be done to restore the relationship and most importantly result in town funding being returned to the fire company.
Mayor Gee Williams seemed to indicate no matter what transpired with a mediator the town will not be restoring all the public funding the BFC had been receiving. Other officials have confirmed the town will never agree to the same amount of funding the fire company had been receiving previously.
As the media, we think nearly all government dealings should take place in a public forum, but this situation is clearly one that merits a private discussion. This is an unprecedented standoff, one that can only be resolved behind closed doors without emotions taking over and ruining the dialogue.
The fact is Berlin must provide assistance to maintain fire protection. How much money that involves is debatable, but Berlin must support fire suppression means with funding, according to the town code.
The code reads the city must agree, “To suppress fires and prevent the dangers thereof and to establish and maintain a fire department; to contribute funds to volunteer fire companies serving the town; to inspect buildings for the purpose of reducing fire hazards, to issue regulations concerning fire hazards and to forbid and prohibit the use of fire-hazardous buildings and structures permanently or until the conditions of the town fire-hazard regulations are met; to install and maintain fireplugs or hydrants where and as necessary and to regulate their use; and to take all other measures necessary to control and prevent fires in the town.”
This passage is important to remember because it keeps in perspective what all parties involved must keep focus on when deliberations take place. Public safety is the most important aspect, and there are concerns in the community about that presently. That cannot be allowed to continue.
This has been a sad chapter for Berlin and the BFC and the sooner it’s closed and addressed the better off the town’s citizens will be.