BERLIN – After months of discussion, the Town of Berlin and the Berlin Fire Company are expected to agree to a contract for services next week.
Mayor Gee Williams confirmed this week that a proposed contract for services would be on the agenda at Monday’s town council meeting. Berlin Fire Company (BFC) officials and town leaders have been working toward a contract for services since spring, when an outside consultant said a formal agreement should be in place.
“We just had to work through the process,” said David Fitzgerald, president of the fire company. “It took a little longer than both parties thought.”
Though contract talks stalled in August, when Williams said the town failed to receive financial information it requested from the fire company, he said this week that the two parties had met Monday and resolved outstanding issues. He said that during the Oct. 22 council meeting, the fire company would make its first ever quarterly report.
“This is something that’ll be routine from here on out,” he said.
After the report is presented, the council is expected to review the contract for fire and EMS services that’s been developed.
“I’m expecting adoption,” Williams said.
He said the contract would serve as a foundation for the two parties going forward, as each year a new agreement will be signed. Williams believes the quarterly reports and formal contract will help ensure financial accountability, something elected officials have said is necessary if the town is to provide the organization with funding.
“It’s a significant step in financial responsibility and accountability in how taxpayer monies are used,” Williams said. “It’ll maintain the level of services we’ve come to expect. This is something we’ve worked toward a long time. I’m hopeful everyone will see we’ll do more together than separately.”
Fitzgerald too said he was optimistic that the contract would improve the dynamics between the town and the fire company.
“I think the ratification and approval of the contract will move the relationship forward and keep it amicable in the future,” he said. “We’re just excited to move forward.”
A point of contention between the two parties in recent months has been the fire company’s plan to build a new Station 3. Though the BFC began discussion of a third station in the 1990s — as plans for the casino and the Glen Riddle community moved forward — and has had a substation on Route 50 near Sunset Memorial Park since 2009, construction of a new, larger station there is set to begin this month. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m.
Fitzgerald said the new facility would feature three bays, bathrooms, a mechanical room and a communication/computer room.
“There’s no plans at this time to house anybody there,” he said.
Fitzgerald said the growth and development in the area, prompted by the town’s agreement to annex additional properties, substantiated the need for Station 3.
“By providing water and sewer service (through annexation) that promotes growth,” he said. “The proof is Ocean’s East.”
Fitzgerald says the new developments increase the demand on BFC services. Station 3 will reduce travel time for emergency responders. He said that was substantiated in the consulting study released by the town earlier this year.
“In 2016 we also did our own GIS study that studied where calls were and where members lived and analyzed response times,” Fitzgerald said. “That assisted us in our decision-making process to continue with the station.”
Town leaders have been critical of the fact that the fire company is embarking on a major construction project as it claims to be struggling financially. An advertisement paid for by the BFC last week reported that the company would have to reduce services if it didn’t soon receive the EMS funding town officials approved in the current budget.
Fitzgerald stressed that the fire company had been collecting donations specifically for a new Station 3 for several years and that that money was earmarked for that purpose.
“We’ve had an active building fund drive for donations and pledges,” he said, adding that the BFC also devoted a portion of its county grant money toward the building fund. “We’ve not deposited any funds the town has given us in that account.”
Williams said this week that the town would release the first quarterly installment of EMS funding to the fire company after the contract for services was signed. Funding will be released quarterly from then on.
“I don’t think the ad served any purpose at all,” he said. “Maybe they could’ve saved a little money…Quite frankly by holding back some funds I think we got everybody to the table.”
Williams said that town officials were encouraged by the fact that the BFC was now willing to consider financing as it moved forward with building Station 3.
“To the best of my understanding they’ll be getting some financing, which is what we’ve been encouraging,” Williams said. “It makes more sense for major capital expenditures.”
He said that if the town paid for all of its capital expenditures in cash upfront, it wouldn’t be able to accomplish much.
“Let’s put us all on the same even keel,” he said, “with transparency and accountability and where we’re not putting an undue burden on the taxpayers of Berlin.”