BERLIN– Municipal officials stressed their commitment to developing a fire funding formula at a work session with the Berlin Fire Company last week.
At a work session last Wednesday, Mayor Zack Tyndall said the town’s goal was to set up a fire funding formula similar to the one Worcester County used to provide grants to local fire companies. He believes a formula would simplify the annual funding process.
“The goal has always been to try and reach some understanding of cost year over year,” he said.
The town’s elected officials met with Berlin Fire Company President David Fitzgerald and Fire Chief R.J. Rhode last week in a work session to discuss various topics. Tyndall said town staff have been working internally to develop a fire company funding formula that mimics the one Worcester County has in place.
“That’s the goal of these meetings to come up with a formula,” he said. “With that being said, how we can meet that number, that’s more on our side,” he said.
Fitzgerald said the fire company was supportive of a funding formula. He noted, however, that it would be simpler to create a fire company funding formula than it would be to create a funding formula for EMS. He said the fire company needed $200,000 in operating funding from the town and $150,000 in capital funds. Berlin Fire Company EMS, however, needs funding to cover costs that vary.
“It’s not as fixed as the fire budget,” he said.
Fitzgerald said more than 90% of EMS costs were in personnel.
“If we’re not competitive we lose people,” he said.
He said that while the town spent 48 cents of the tax rate on police, he estimated not quite 9 cents was needed to fund EMS operations and capital. He said the county currently provided Berlin Fire Company EMS with $25,000 per ambulance. The county provides $900 per run when a patient is transported and $225 for a run when the patient is not transported. The county provides $225 for a transport call in town limits. The county also provides the Berlin Fire Company EMS with $8,000 per full-time employee.
Fitzgerald said the fire and EMS companies only asked for what they needed to function.
“We would never ask you for something that we couldn’t spend,” he said. “Anything that we ask anybody for, we’ve got to show the expenses to do that.”
Councilman Steve Green asked why the town didn’t already have a funding formula in place. Tyndall said during the past several years the town had just been working to get fire company funding back to previous levels.
Green said a formula would ease the funding process and at the same time would provide accountability for taxpayers.
“I really think this is going to be very helpful,” he said.
Fitzgerald noted that when the town’s last strategic plan had been written in 2016, developing a funding formula had been included as a priority.
At last week’s work session the council also talked about potential EMS coverage at special events. Tyndall maintained that the town wanted an ambulance stationed in town, within the barricades signaling the perimeter of an event, while Fitzgerald said the fire company wanted it at the fire house.
“They’ve got experience, we listen to them,” he said. “It’s only 503 feet from the first barricade to the firehouse.”
He added that an ambulance leaving the firehouse would have access to various routes to respond.
“We can agree to disagree but that’s our professional expertise,” Fitzgerald said.
Tyndall said the town’s police suggested the ambulance be stationed on site during events. The department had also said certain events, those with the largest crowds, were the ones that should have on-site ambulance coverage.
“With our equipment that was not practical for us,” Rhode said.
When the idea of stationing a utility vehicle within the event grounds was suggested, Rhode said that type of vehicle had been included in the budget previously and was never funded.
“Year after year that’s the first thing that gets cut,” he said.
Tyndall said there were possibly grants that could help the fire company purchase a utility vehicle. He said if they had that vehicle a crew could be stationed with it inside event grounds. That crew could treat a patient and transport it to the edge of the event, where an ambulance from the firehouse could transport the patient to the hospital.
Tyndall also suggested the fire company communicate with the National Park Service and the Maryland Park Service because of the calls related to Assateague Island. Fitzgerald asked Tyndall to send along any information he had regarding that.
“We’ll look at that,” he said. “We’ll have to get our EMS billing company involved.”