By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Aug. 23, 2018) Talks between the Town of Berlin and Berlin Fire Company on a funding agreement for fiscal 2019 stalled earlier this week, with the town asking for more information and the fire company not responding until later.
A major point of contention appears to be the fire company’s apparent work on its new Station 3 on Route 50 near Stephen Decatur High School, despite a recommendation from an independent consultant to renovate the existing Station 1 on Main Street instead. The Town Council was apparently also under the impression Station 1 was to be renovated, while Station 3 remained on the back burner.
A “Fire and Emergency Medical Services Funding Study” by Matrix Consulting Group dated April 5, describes the Station 3 structure as “located at 10823 Ocean Gateway” and as “a single bay building that is leased … a block building with no facilities to house personnel.”
Matrix recommended converting the second floor of Station 1 on Main Street to “house company offices and appropriate living quarters for station personnel.”
“The second-floor area has plenty of space to create office space for the fire company, appropriate living quarters for station personnel and an area for meetings and trainings,” the report said.
However, a recent Berlin Fire Company fundraising letter indicates the company is proceeding with its Station 3 plans.
According to the letter, “Our newest donation drive is for our Station 3 building fund. Our goal is to raise $2.0 million dollars to build a new station at 10845 Ocean Gateway … we are finalizing our plans and engineering and would hope to start construction later this year.”
The most recent audit of Berlin Fire Company financials, dated June 30, 2017 and done by PKS & Company of Ocean City, show cash assets totaling about $2.8 million, including $617,539 in restricted cash. Total assets were listed as more than $5.4 million.
Meanwhile, the Berlin Town Council met on Monday night to discuss finalizing a financial agreement with the fire company based on the town’s fiscal 2019 budget, which would have included a significant increase in funding.
Mayor Gee Williams emailed a statement about the meeting on Tuesday.
“The mayor and council met in special executive session to continue our discussion about establishing contracts with the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) for fire and rescue services and a separate contract for emergency medical services (EMS),” Williams said.
“After our most recent meeting with BFC representatives a week ago, we requested some specific financial information about their new Station 3 project East of the Town of Berlin on US 50. Our discussions at last night’s executive session were limited because, after multiple inquiries by the Town, we have not received the information we requested.
“The Town of Berlin continues to explore ways to establish a contractual relationship with the BFC to ensure fire, rescue and EMS services to the residents, property owners and guests of our community that also ensures transparency and accountability to the public for all monetary management of the Berlin Fire Company.”
According to the approved fiscal 2019 Town of Berlin budget, the Berlin Fire Company was to receive $605,000 from the town for fire and EMS services, an increase of 142 percent, or $355,000, over the previous fiscal period.
Williams, during a June Town Council meeting, said the funding “was contingent on a contract for services for fiscal-year ’19 between Berlin Fire Company and the Town of Berlin for fire and EMS services.”
According to the Matrix study, Town of Berlin funding for fire suppression services over the last three years have totaled $960,000 and EMS funding was $240,000, for a combined of $1.2 million during fiscal years 2015-2017.
The total county funding during that period was $1.251 million for fire services and $1.762 million for EMS, for a three-year total of $3.013 million.
Altogether, taxpayers in Berlin and Worcester County have contributed more than $4.2 million to the Berlin Fire Company and EMS between fiscal 2015-2017.
Per the Matrix report, fire company revenues have declined during the last three fiscal years, from $990,638 in 2015 to $781,800 in 2017. Meanwhile, the report shows total expenditures jumped from $391,755 in 2015 to $1.278 million in 2017.
The report show an increase in EMS revenues from $994,041 in fiscal 2015 to $1.133 million in fiscal 2017, while total expenditures increased from $1.024 million in 2015 to $1.643 million in 2017.
Berlin Fire Company Chief Jim Corron on Tuesday said he was not authorized to comment on the status of the negotiations or on Station 3.
“The only thing I can say is we’re working toward coming with a better relationship and working toward a ratified contract,” he said. “We’re working to remedy the situation and come together as a whole.”