BERLIN – Berlin’s mayor says progress toward a contract for services with the Berlin Fire Company has slowed as the town continues to wait for requested information from the organization.
Municipal leaders met in closed session Monday to discuss the contract for services with the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) that has been in the works for several months. Mayor Gee Williams said the meeting was brief, as the town did not receive the data it requested at its Aug. 13 meeting with BFC leaders.
“Discussion was limited,” Williams said. “We have not received the information we requested.”
A statement from the Berlin Fire Company, however, says its leaders didn’t realize there was a deadline.
“We were not aware of a meeting scheduled for Aug. 20 and a deadline to have these documents to the mayor and council by this date,” a statement provided by BFC President David Fitzgerald reads. “We are continuing to work with the mayor and council to develop fire/rescue and EMS funding formulas for this year and their approval of the FY18-19 agreements for fire/rescue and EMS services to continue to provide the best fire/rescue and EMS services to its residents and visitors.”
According to Williams, the information requested by the town relates to the BFC’s plans to build a new Station 3 at its property on Route 50 just east of Berlin. Williams said that in spite of countless meetings with fire company leadership in recent months, plans — and the potential cost — of a new station outside Berlin hadn’t been discussed. The fire company sent local residents its annual fundraising mailer last week, however, that included a request for donations for the new station. According to the mailer, the fire company hopes to start construction of the new station later this year.
The mayor said the first time BFC leaders discussed the station with the council was Aug. 13.
“After our most recent meeting with BFC representatives a week ago, we requested some specific financial information about their new Station 3 project east of the Town of Berlin on US 50,” Williams said.
He added that at numerous meetings with the fire company this year, the topic had not been discussed. The fire company, has, however, maintained the position that it is underfunded by the town.
“We’ve been told the fire company is in a tight financial bind,” Williams said. “We find out a week ago they’ve made a significant — a $2 million — commitment to build a new station east of Berlin. That raises in anyone’s mind a lot of questions.”
The statement from the BFC confirms that its leaders met with town officials Aug. 13 but says a variety of topics were discussed. According to the fire company, a draft contract was reviewed – with edits suggested by both parties — and information regarding the new station was requested.
“The mayor and council requested information regarding the Berlin Fire Company Station 3 project and most importantly assurances that no town funds were being used for the Berlin Fire Company Station 3 capital building project,” the BFC statement reads. “The fire company has a specific banking account for Station 3 capital building funds in which donations, pledges, grants, and memorials received for this project are deposited. This account has been a part of the annual audit completed by the town’s accountants. BFC is also utilizing the out of town fire call grant funds provided by Worcester County Commissioners for this project. We continue to solicit donations to the Station 3 building fund. The fire company has approved the stipulation that no town funds to be used for the Station 3 capital building project and this is included in the proposed fire/rescue services contract with the mayor and council.”
In February of 2017, the BFC received site plan approval from the Worcester County Planning Commission for a new 10,409-square-foot building on Route 50. A 2018 report from Matrix Consulting Group acknowledges that the BFC is “working to obtain funds to build a new facility” but in the way of recommendations addresses only Station 1. The report suggests that Station 1 on Main Street be improved to house company offices and appropriate living quarters for personnel. In the report’s review of BFC finances, it identifies $1.5 million in the Station 3 building fund and $150,399 in the headquarters (Station 1) building fund.