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Berlin Fire Company funding debate slated for Sept. 9

9/5/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN—Possible plans to reinstate some funding to the Berlin Fire Company are on the agenda for the Monday, Sept. 9 mayor and council meeting and those plans come at a time when residents are caught in what might be described as a whirlwind of allegiances, politics, finance and litigation.

 The July 2012 decision by the mayor and council to stop the town’s funding of the fire company was a response to what town officials said was the fire company’s refusal to work with them to resolve complaints of harassment within the ranks of the company’s firefighters and paramedics.

The meeting, which is open to the public, is another installment in the long-running debate between town leadership and the volunteer organization that provides firefighting and emergency medical services to Berlin and nearby areas.

In an online statement, the fire company asked residents to attend the meeting and speak on the company’s behalf.

“We have been here for you for 103 years and now we need you to help us. Please come to the Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, September 9, 2013 to support our funding request,” it said.

A council meeting slated for Aug. 26 was cancelled because of what officials said was a lack of pressing business.  However, the mayor and council held an executive session to discuss financial documents from the company. The discussion was based on an independent review that was conducted by Salisbury-based accounting firm PKS & Company, P.A.

The council chose the firm based on three criteria: The firm had conducted past audits for the town; it has audited other fire departments in the area, but not the Berlin Fire Company; and was the most qualified independent source of counsel on the matter, Williams said. The company submitted documents directly to PKS to avoid interpretations that town officials interfered with the uation, he said.  

Williams said the fire company requested the money withheld during the 2012-2013 fiscal budget year along with the money that would normally be paid during FY 2013-2014. The request was a nonstarter for the town officials, who responded with a counter-request for more specific cost estimates for what was needed.

At first, Williams said, nothing happened.

Then the town received a letter dated Aug. 25 restating the company’s demand for the full amount, which Williams said came to roughly $1.13 million. There was an underlying message that nothing less would be acceptable, he said.

The letter was signed by BFC President David Fitzgerald, Fire Chief Marc Brown, and Board of Directors Chairman John Holloway.

Williams said the letter would be distributed at the public meeting on Monday. A copy of the letter that was obtained independently follows.

So far this year, the company has responded to 198 fire emergencies and 821 medical emergencies. The company answered 361 fire calls and 1,573 emergency medical calls in 2012, according to its Web site.

 

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