Mayor Wants BFC, Town To Partner On Funding Needs

BERLIN –   Mayor Gee Williams encouraged the Berlin Fire Company to join the town in efforts to have Worcester County address EMS funding concerns.

As Berlin Fire Company (BFC) President David Fitzgerald shared the agency’s annual budget request with the town council this week, Williams invited him to join the town in asking the county to change its “archaic” funding system. Williams stressed the town wouldn’t be able to provide all the financial support the fire company needed.

“We just don’t have the money,” he said. “Neither does any other town.”

As Berlin’s elected officials began budget discussions this week, Fitzgerald presented requests for grants for fire and EMS service. He said 57% of the EMS calls and 40% of the fire and rescue calls the BFC handled were in town limits. The fire company has a proposed budget of $744,862 while the EMS budget is just under $1.5 million. The budget shows the BFC receiving $225,000 (30%) of its fire budget and roughly $352,000 (23.5%) of its EMS budget from town grants.

Fitzgerald told the council that based on a staffing model created with the help of Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers, the BFC EMS unit was understaffed. He said the department should have four EMS providers on duty, something that the emergence of COVID-19 had proven, as responders needed to decontaminate after treating patients.

“That’s another $200,000 a year that needs to come from somewhere,” Fitzgerald said.

Williams said the need for EMS funding was the reason Worcester County’s mayors had banded together to approach the Worcester County Commissioners to ask them to form a task force to find a solution to the EMS funding problem.

“The system we have right now is broken…,” he said. “I think that if you can make a case for why additional personnel is needed it’s going to need to be done in a coordinated effort.”

He said the town could no longer afford to give the fire company $600,000 a year.

“Those days are gone,” he said. “We can’t do that. We don’t think it’s necessary.”

He said the growing need for EMS funding had been a problem for years but had come to a head.

“The assumption that we can keep coming up with $100,000 here, $100,000 there, it’s done,” Williams said. “It’s not going to happen.”

He invited the BFC to join the town in its efforts to change the county’s funding system.

“This divide and conquer approach, it’s no longer working,” he said. “We need a unified, coordinated effort … Everybody trying to do their own thing, we’ve outgrown that situation. The whole county has. Let’s join forces and see what we can get done. It’s reached a point of no return. It’s a crisis within a crisis.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.