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Berlin Fire Company funding debate slated for Sept. 9

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 evaluation, 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.