BERLIN – Mayor Gee Williams reacted to a contentious discussion of a Berlin Fire Company funding study with a statement to the press.
On Tuesday, the town hosted a public meeting for Matrix Consulting Group’s Robert Finn to present the firm’s findings following a months-long fire and emergency medical services funding study. Ensuing discussion included criticism of the report by Jay Bergey, accountant for the Berlin Fire Company (BFC). Williams offered a response Wednesday morning.
“Unfortunately, near the end of the meeting there was a provocative statement, not made by any member of the Berlin Fire Company or any representative of the Town of Berlin, that sought to undermine the credibility of our town’s genuine concerns about the financial management of the BFC,” he said. “A brief, but heated discussion followed and I recognize that my response was strong, but I maintain was appropriate, in light of the dispersions that were made to apparently undermine a better working relationship that both the town and the BFC are working to accomplish.”
Williams said the town stood by the findings and recommendations provided by Matrix Consulting Group.
“We are looking forward to resolving any differences between the town and the BFC and are confident a well-thought, well-defined contract for fire-EMS services, currently being discussed between the town and the fire company, is the foundation for long term success that will insure the continuation of top-notch fire-fighting and EMS services to the residents and guests of Berlin for decades to follow,” Williams said.
Bergey stood by the concerns he’d voiced regarding the study following the meeting. He said there was nothing wrong with the fire company’s prudent practice of saving up to buy new equipment, as it had kept the agency from acquiring debt. He said the key fact revealed by the study was that the town accounted for 57 percent of BFC service but only funded 27 percent of its budget.
“The town needs to step up and do their mandated duty,” he said, adding that the municipality should simply develop a funding formula like Worcester County had. “Berlin needs to adopt the same thing.”
David Fitzgerald, president of the BFC, said the agency had already made several requests for a funding formula. He said it was even a goal identified in the town’s strategic plan.
“At the conclusion of the meeting, we summarized three different processes for the town to fund the fire and emergency medical services,” he said. “First, we could continue the line item budget as we do each year. Two other processes are a funding formula as is used by Worcester County for funding the emergency medical services or a combination of dedicated revenue from property tax assessments and per amount call formula as is used by Worcester County for funding the fire service. The fire company has made repeated requests to develop a funding formula.”
Like Bergey, he pointed to the report’s finding that the fire company was underfunded. He said that finding was supported by Finn’s references to the fire company where he once served as chief.
“We need to concentrate on the key point made that supported the fire company’s position indicating Berlin Fire Company is underfunded for the level of fire, rescue, and emergency medical services we provide,” Fitzgerald said. “Mr. Finn provided a very good comparison of an organization that has approximately 1,400 calls and has a $6 million annual budget. Berlin Fire Company is providing a similar service for much less.”