BERLIN – Town officials approved a contract for services with the Berlin Fire Company this week.
On Monday, the Berlin Town Council voted 3-1 to approve a contract with the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) for fire and rescue services and EMS services. The agreement, which mandates quarterly financial presentations from the fire company and subsequent quarterly payments from the town, provides the organization with $605,000 in funding for fiscal year 2019.
“The whole idea here is what I think we all have been working toward, which is total transparency and accountability for the taxpayer funded grants to this organization, which provides an essential service to the residents and property owners of Berlin,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
Following the fire company’s first quarterly financial report Monday, the council voted 3-1, with Councilman Troy Purnell absent and Councilman Thom Gulyas opposed, to approve the contract. Gulyas did not return a call for comment this week.
The contract approved includes provisions for the fire company to provide the town with a five-year financial plan by the end of 2018 and for the parties to work toward “a reduction in use of the sirens for fire notifications” by the end of this year. The contract also stipulates that BFC officers and members shall ensure that it does not discriminate.
In addition, the contract addresses Station 3, the funding of which has been an issue between the two parties in recent months. The contract states that Station 3 building expenditures “shall be taken from a separate and distinct construction account for Station 3, which shall be kept separate from any funds contributed by the Town of Berlin; nor shall any funds from the Town of Berlin be utilized in any way for such purposes…”
The contract requires that the BFC adhere to a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, the same as the town does, and states that the organization shall continue to submit to an annual audit paid for by the town.
The agreement signed this week, which is for fiscal year 2019, provides the BFC with $250,000 in fire funding and $355,000 in EMS funding. The BFC will receive the funding in four installments, one each quarter, after fire company leaders have provided the town with quarterly financial reports.
On Wednesday, Williams confirmed that the $605,000 set to be provided to the fire company did represent an increase in funding. The BFC received $400,000 from the town last fiscal year.
“The total of $605,000 was reached back in the early summer after much discussion and review of fire and EMS calls within the Town of Berlin,” Williams said. “The timing and allocation of that amount was in discussion for months. As much as increasing the annual grants for Fire and EMS was critical to our long and multiple discussions with the BFC, all parties understood from the Matrix Consulting report that the town needs to provide more funding for EMS services. What stymied the effort was getting the BFC to agree that all financial statements, reports and audits of the BFC from the current fiscal year going forward, are to be available to the public.”
Williams said town officials want to ensure there’s transparency whenever taxpayer funds are used. He added that the increase in funding to the BFC could result in a tax increase for Berlin’s citizens.
“Unless there is a decision to significantly reduce spending on other needs for the town, such as repairs and upgrades to streets and sidewalks, the mayor and council will need to look at a potential property tax increase to sustain this higher level of annual funding for the BFC in future budgets,” he said.