County Reduces Berlin Budget Allocation To ‘Send A Message’ About Fire/EMS Funding

County Reduces Berlin Budget Allocation To ‘Send A Message’ About Fire/EMS Funding
The Berlin Fire Company headquarters is pictured on N. Main Street. Photo by Chris Parypa

BERLIN – County officials agreed this week to cut $115,000 from the Town of Berlin’s municipal grant to supplement EMS funding for the Berlin Fire Company.

During budget deliberations Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners voted to decrease Berlin’s $465,000 unrestricted grant by $115,000. The decision came after commissioners expressed frustration with the level of funding the municipality had provided to the Berlin Fire Company in recent years.

“We’ve got to send a message,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said.

The county established a committee earlier this year to begin reviewing fire and EMS funding countywide. To ensure companies had what they needed to operate until a long-term funding solution is established, the commissioners this week agreed to include an additional $1.7 million in the coming year’s budget to supplement countywide EMS funding.  Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said something committee meetings had revealed was that the Town of Berlin’s grants to the Berlin Fire Company had decreased in recent years. Mitrecic said that while the county was stepping up funding to fire and EMS, Berlin was cutting it.

“Well that doesn’t seem right,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

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Bunting said there had been issues with Berlin’s fire and EMS funding for years.

“It’s finally hit the breaking point,” he said.

According to Weston Young, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer, while the town planned to keep the department’s funding level going into the next fiscal year, in fiscal year 2020 its grant from the town had been cut 27%. He added that when the county distributed pass-through funding to municipalities to provide to fire companies, it was accompanied with a letter advising jurisdictions to keep fire and EMS funding level.

“It’s in the letter every year,” he said.

Bunting said that over the years, the town’s grant had decreased whenever the county had increased its grant to fire companies.

“Whatever amount we gave they took away,” he said.

Though Commissioner Diana Purnell made a motion to approve Berlin’s municipal grant at $465,000, it failed with just two votes of support — from her and Commissioner Josh Nordstrom. A motion from Bunting to reduce the town’s grant by $115,000 passed 5-1, with Nordstrom opposed.

Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall said Wednesday he was surprised to learn of the commissioners’ decision. He said that since being elected mayor in the fall, he’d had regular conversations with Berlin Fire Company President David Fitzgerald and that the town — which is struggling to keep its enterprise funds afloat — funded the fire company to the best of its ability.

“When you look at municipalities our size, we’re funding our fire department at a very equitable level,” he said.

Tyndall said that once he learned of the commissioners’ vote he’d contacted Mitrecic, who’d agreed to let Tyndall speak at the next budget work session May 18.

“Once we can have some dialogue I think the commissioners can understand we do fund the fire department to the best of our ability,” he said.

Tyndall added that a reduction of $115,000 in the town’s grant would have a substantial impact, as the town in recent years has devoted the entire amount to police, fire and EMS.

“We’re one of the few municipalities to take that entre grant and put it to public safety,” he said.

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.