What a year it has been in Berlin. This week’s firing of the town administrator over “multiple issues’ is the latest in what has been a tumultuous 2019 by all accounts.
Much of the early part of this year involved the significant budget problems that were discovered after an audit last year revealed mismanagement of funds and an inadequate level of reserve funding. The budget nightmare concluded with an 18% property tax increase and hikes in utility rates for residential and commercial property owners as well as a 14% reduction in town expenses. The budget was such a mess the town needed to raise taxes and fees on its residents and businesses while also authorizing massive cuts in spending and freezing salaries. More tax and fee increases are forecasted for next year.
Though the budget crisis was about as serious as it gets for a municipality, town dynamics were exacerbated this summer when a significant chemical spill occurred at Heron Park, the site of a former poultry plant operation. To date, the cost for the cleanup and the 24-hour security detail required to keep people out of the closed park is estimated to cost the town at least $283,000. Though there were not many details given as far as why Laura Allen was ousted Monday, we know her handling of the costly chemical spill at Berlin’s Heron Park was a big reason. Town officials were convinced she hid information from them and a major reason why termination was chosen over resignation.
A result of the budget predicament and the chemical spill mess has been a simmering resentment toward the town’s elected officials in general. This disdain played out last week during a routine change to a planned community development and officially when a group of residents over the summer tried to stop the town’s annexation of a parcel near Route 50 that will ultimately be home to a commercial project. In the end, the petition fell short of the required numbers. We were happy to see it fail because the project was going to occur whether or not the town annexed the land. With the annexation allowed to proceed, the town will receive welcomed revenue from the project rather than the county getting it.
All these matters will surely be talking points for next year’s election, when the mayor’s seat (Gee Williams), the District 2 seat (Zack Tyndall) and the District 3 seat (Elroy Brittingham) will be decided.. By then, a new administrator will be in place, but the calls for change in leadership will likely persist.