Budget Doubles Berlin Fire Company Funding Support

BERLIN — Funding from the town of Berlin to the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) will double in the next budget year, from $200,000 to $400,000, though still short of the original funding that was severed in 2012.

The Berlin Mayor and Council indicated during their budgeting process this spring that they intended to up the amount of funding being granted to the BFC but were waiting on the results of an audit of the company and to sit down with its leadership. At Monday’s meeting, a motion was made to grant the BFC $400,000 split between two funds.

“As a result of those meetings, the Mayor and Council have added $250,000 in operating funds for fire and ambulance services,” said Mayor Gee Williams, “and an additional $150,000 to be held in reserves for the Berlin Fire Company for the purchase of firefighting vehicles and ambulances. The total allocation for the Berlin Fire Company for FY15 is $400,000 and represents the largest budget allocation in the town’s general fund to any one entity or service.”

It’s a significant jump from the $200,000 granted to the BFC last year but less than the $537,000 the town had been sending to the company before 2012. At that time, there was a conflict between the two groups over allegations of employee harassment within the BFC as well as a dispute over how much management the town should be exerting over the independent fire company. This led to the town removing all funding to the BFC.

The move resulted in some animosity between the town and BFC. But the mayor said this week that the partial restoration of funds should be seen as a sign that relations are improving.

“I think there is a mutual desire to make this more of a business partnership while still acknowledging that the fire company is a separate entity and not a part of the town of Berlin,” said Williams. “But we’re all part of the community.”

The town hopes to improve communications with the company over the next year and to meet with leadership if not regularly than at least occasionally. Transparency is important and Williams said the audit was the first real step toward that. He did not disclose the results of that audit but did say that the town was satisfied and felt comfortable in granting the $400,000 afterwards.

“What we kind of concentrated on was that we wanted to understand their reserves and their future needs because we both obviously have operating budgets that are pretty significant,” said the mayor.

It’s worth noting that the $400,000 being granted this year is divided between operating funds for services and a reserve for the purchase of vehicles. In the past, the town had not attached criteria to the funding sent to the BFC, indicating the council plans on playing a more active role in how monies are spent.

While feelings haven’t gone back to how they were pre-2012, Williams is confident that things are back on the right track and said the council plans a more regular dialog with the BFC.

“It’s going to take time. I recognize that it’s going to take time to re-build a level of trust. But apparently there wasn’t the level of trust that we had assumed before,” he said. “So anything that we gain over time I think will benefit the entire community. I don’t expect miracles but I do expect success for this relationship over time.”

Though the town seems satisfied with the situation, the jury is still out on whether the partial restoration of funding, with the stipulations included by the town, will be viewed so positively by the BFC.

Company leadership declined to make a comment on the new funding by press time Thursday afternoon with BFC President David Fitzgerald saying that more time is needed to process the information.