Berlin Community Unfairly Stuck In Middle

Berlin Community Unfairly Stuck In Middle

Oftentimes, rational people disagree. Sometimes, rational people disagree so much they become irrational.

There seems to be a bit of this surfacing in an ongoing political squabble in Worcester County.

In Berlin, the town and its recent fracture with the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) reached new heights this week when a last-minute election coup arose with the intention of shocking the uncontested mayor with a write-in campaign in what was expected to be a low-turnout election day.

The first salvo came from the Berlin Fire Company with its mailer town residents received over the weekend. Annually, the fire company conducts a fundraising drive and this year was no different, but this year’s mailer highlighted the recent spat with the town and the critical need for the community to reach into its pockets to keep the fire company afloat as well as ensure emergency services continue.

The major question for most Berlin residents and businesses in all this debate has always been whether we are safe or not, in light of the town yanking its BFC funding after a town investigation found serious personnel issues at the fire hall.

Addressing that question of whether services will be reduced or altered, the fire company wrote in its mailer, “We may be forced by budget constraints to do the following: suspend  all training above minimum mandatory requirements, end fire prevention give-a-ways and volunteer incentives, revise and extend equipment and vehicle replacement dates and reduce or eliminate other non-emergency functions. As a last resort, we may have to begin charging for emergency response of fire equipment.”

No matter what happens, the fire company said, “no emergency services will be reduced,” but they may come at a higher price in light of the town removing 25% of the fire company’s budget.

In fairness, Mayor Gee Williams wrote in his piece to residents, “As the elected representatives for the Town of Berlin, we feel we have done everything we can to correct this situation, but without success. The inability of the current fire company leadership to work with the town on these employment issues has left us with no choice but to immediately cease all funding to the Berlin Fire Company. We have an obligation to all citizens and taxpayers of Berlin to not expose the Town to any financial risk resulting from what we believe are impending legal actions surrounding this matter.”

Initially, we hoped time would do its magic and that the town and BFC could mend fences and ink a new agreement that would restore the BFC’s funding from the municipality. This would ensure the safety of the community to the highest degree and alleviate all the concerns and questions. After this week’s events, we no longer see that as a possibility.

That’s unfortunate and now the community’s citizens and businesses are pressured into filling some of the gaping hole in the BFC’s budget. Unfortunately, the ill-advised write-in campaign will most likely keep some from digging into their pockets to help the BFC, which maintained this week it never gets involved in politics and had no role in orchestrating the effort.

I believe the BFC did not officially have any role in the campaign, but there is no question membership at some level was involved, whether in an official capacity or not.

This lame election tactic could not have come at a more inopportune time when fundraising is taking place for the BFC and Berlin is riding a tremendous wave of positive public relations.

The most important aspect here is what the BFC wrote in its mailer: “We know that our job is to protect property and save lives and we refuse to be distracted.”

That’s the good news, but it could come with an added cost if the two sides cannot agree to discuss the matter privately. That needs to be done, but it’s going to take some time for the write-in campaign sting to ease for at least the mayor and that’s understandable.
There are two sides to every story and every now and again there is a third side. In this case, it appears there is the town of Berlin’s side, the BFC’s side and somewhere in between is probably the truth. Also somewhere in between lies a compromise, and the two sides need to work this situation out.

It’s easier written than done, but the community deserves some sort of resolution to this ongoing controversy.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.