BFC Rallying For Funding Support; Mayor: ‘It’ll Be Less Than Full Funding’

BFC Rallying For Funding Support; Mayor: ‘It’ll Be Less Than Full Funding’

BERLIN — After more than a year in limbo, town funding to the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) is expected to soon be restored but at what level is the question.
The BFC is asking residents to turn out in force as a show of support. However, a display of solidarity will not affect the level of funding that the Town Council decides to restore, said Mayor Gee Williams, who confirmed that the number will be lower than years past.
The BFC sent out a letter to residents requesting their presence at the upcoming Sept. 9 town meeting when a vote on funding is expected.
“The current financial situation caused by the Mayor and Council’s defunding of the fire company and emergency medical services effective July 1, 2012 has left the fire company reviewing its ability to continue to perform safely, effectively, and efficiently its fire, rescue, and emergency medical services to the residents of the town of Berlin,” the letter read. “Of paramount importance is the protection of your life and property, but also the safety of the volunteer members. The fire company is unable to plan its future public safety and business operations due to the uncertainty of the financial support from the Town of Berlin.”
The town yanked roughly $600,000 in funding from the BFC last summer, due to a dispute over scheduling issues and claims of employee harassment, allegations the company has denied. It’s been a difficult year without that funding, according to the BFC. The agency responded to 614 fire calls since 2012, with 41 percent being in town as well as 2,603 EMS calls with 58 percent in town. Volunteer members have contributed roughly 15,108 hours without compensation in 2012 and the BFC has maintained a host of emergency vehicles.
All of these services require funding, noted the BFC letter, warning that if the council restores less than the approximately $600,000 withdrawn last year it could impact service.
“If our requested level of funding is not restored, the Mayor and Council will force us to consider which items to sacrifice. Is it the safety of our members? Is it the 24-hour paramedic level ambulance crew?” the letter read. “It is our plea to the Mayor and Council that we not have to make these hard decisions due to their funding reductions.”
But the company will likely need to make some sacrifices with their budget, said Williams, as the council anticipates restoring a lower funding amount.
“It’ll be less than full funding and we’ve informed the fire company of that,” said the mayor.
No matter how many residents respond to the fire company’s letter and turn out in support, Williams guaranteed the council will not change their minds due to “public pressure.”
“If people want to come to the meeting, they’re more than welcome but this is not a matter of some sort of public pressure effort,” he said. “We’re doing this based on what we think is a responsible way to actually support the needs of the Berlin Fire Company and to serve the town of Berlin and based on the financial needs of the community … To think that a large crowd of people would somehow intimidate us into making a decision we did not feel was responsible and is not appropriate under the circumstances is just silly.”
The town has reduced its own budget this year, Williams continued, so the expectation is that the BFC should be able to tighten its belt as well despite their protests.
“We’ve had to cut back significantly and the indications we’ve had from the fire company is that they can’t cut back at all,” he said.
Williams acknowledged that any restoration of funding less than the $600,000 that was originally withdrawn isn’t likely to go over well with the crowd at Monday night’s council meeting, but asserted that there are plenty of residents in Berlin that side with the council on the matter but are less inclined to make that opinion known publically.
“This is when we have to speak for the community. This is our job and we’re going to do it,” he said.
Williams’ opinion to the contrary, the BFC has made it clear that they feel a restoration of full-funding is crucial.
“Just as you have in your home or business, our expenses must be met in order to have us continue providing the same level of fire and life safety to the town,” read the letter. “The funding we are requesting is to protect you by providing fire and rescue services and to provide you effective paramedic level emergency medical services.”
The letter reiterated town funding would only be used on emergency services and not alternate BFC costs, such as the defense of an ongoing $8 million lawsuit filed by a former employee over harassment, the same employee whose initial allegations led to funding being severed by the town.
“We can assure you that we are vigorously going to defend the suit, and we deny the allegations which will be fully resolved in the lawsuit. The company is fully insured and the lawyers are being provided by our insurer,” according to the letter. “Therefore, any money which we seek from the town of Berlin will not be used for legal expenses or any other costs relating to this suit. The funding we are requesting is solely for the continuing cost of operations …”