The Town of Berlin should absolutely provide funds from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation to the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) for firefighting equipment and a new ambulance. Worcester County should as well since the BFC serves unincorporated areas.
These public safety improvements are needed and an ideal utilization of a massive federal stimulus plan. The likelihood is high the BFC will get town and county funds to carry out these lifesaving improvements.
The question of whether the town should contribute relief act funds for the fire company to pave a grassy area along Harrison Avenue for more parking is more complicated. The BFC is currently set to receive a sliver of land from the county opposite the new library, resulting in the entire area behind the old library and fire hall belonging to the BFC. The area proposed for paving will be more than two acres.
During this week’s council meeting, the request for the paving project was not discussed at length. It’s unclear if the council is receptive to the request but no objections were expressed. More discussions will likely be held soon.
What is clear is Berlin has a parking problem during special events as well as during the height of the summer and holiday seasons. There are not enough parking spaces to meet the demands of visitors coming to the area as well as the employees working and living downtown who grab the best spots.
It would make sense for the town to provide funding to the BFC to pave the field only if the parking would be made available for public use when demand is high. When asked if this would be possible, the BFC said it would be considered by membership, but the likelihood would be parking could continue to be provided in exchange for a request for donations. Over the last quarter, the BFC reported this week $500 in parking donations from special events.
Before this proposal can be seriously considered, more information is needed including a cost estimate to transform the field into a parking lot. It’s unknown how many spots the area could accommodate but a range of 60-80 would seem reasonable.
The situation could be a win-win for the Town of Berlin. Allocating the funds to the BFC to expand its parking with the caveat the will be made available to visitors to town during peak times is a good use of stimulus dollars because it addresses a need.
Under a formal Memorandum of Understanding, the conditions of the deal could be outlined. There’s nothing wrong with the BFC requesting donations for allowing its property to be used for parking. The agreement could discuss the handline of any sort of maintenance or additional expenses as well. This proposal deserves the town’s consideration while more details come forward.