BERLIN – Municipal officials are expected to discuss a capital funding request with Berlin Fire Company representatives next week after delaying a decision Monday.
Elected officials had mixed feelings this week regarding a capital funding request from the fire company presented by Mayor Zack Tyndall. The issue, which relates to capital funding from the town’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant, is expected to come up at a previously scheduled Dec. 20 work session with the fire company.
“Because the conversation is scheduled for next week, not next month, that’s why I’d say put a pin in this,” Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said.
Earlier this year, the council agreed to give the fire company $220,000 in ARPA funds to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus. The town provided the agency $83,000 but then a federal grant enabled the agency to purchase the gear. As a result, fire company leadership asked the town for the remainder of the $220,000 so it could be used to help pay down the loan associated with two new fire trucks.
“I think we should hold off on acting on this request, not indefinitely but until we hear back regarding the FY25 contract amounts,” Tyndall said.
Councilman Jack Orris pointed out that the ARPA funding was referenced in the town’s contract with the fire company. Councilman Jay Knerr suggested the town was holding the funds hostage.
“We’re not holding anything hostage,” Tyndall said.
He said the town wasn’t a signatory to the fire company’s debt. He said if the town wanted to give the fire company money to pay down its loan a memorandum of understanding was needed first.
“If that’s a route the council wishes to take we need to explore how we establish an understanding about the use of equipment that’s being funded with town dollars, whether that’s ambulances, fire trucks, we need to have something in place, an MOU or something, that makes sure capital equipment can be used for fire suppression or EMS response in the Town of Berlin,” he said. “I don’t think it’s smart to release it just yet.”
Councilman Steve Green asked if the town was in violation of the contract if it didn’t release the funding. The town’s attorney said the town was not in violation because it was going to release the funding at some point during the fiscal year.
Knerr said he was ready to grant the fire company’s request.
“We seem to have this rocky relationship with the fire company,” he said. “I think we need to put our best effort forth and improve this relationship. I think this would help.”
Councilman Jack Orris said he too was having a hard time delaying the decision.
“I think if you’re going to release it you’ve got to have an MOU in place,” Tyndall maintained.
Nichols pointed out that the council was meeting with the fire company leadership in a work session Dec. 20 and could discuss the issue with them then. Green said that while he wanted to improve the town’s relationship with the fire company he felt a discussion could be held at the work session.
“I’m fine with pausing this until the 20th, discussing it with them,” he said, adding that the town’s last work session with the fire company had been productive.
Knerr and Orris said they disagreed but noted that with Councilman Dean Burrell absent a motion now would result in a split vote which would allow Tyndall to break the tie. Tyndall maintained that he wasn’t ready to approve the release of the funds.
“They entered into the acquiring of that equipment knowing what their interest and principal payments would be,” he said. “If we can help them, by all means I want us to help them, but we’re not bound by them saving $10,000 in interest to make a quick decision.”