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Joyce Endee

Council asked to prioritize at budget hearing

June 01, 2011
BERLIN — There was little negative discussion on the proposed budget for the city of Berlin, except for on the matter of laying off two firefighters.

Mayor Paul Grenier explained that the budget presented, which included the elimination of four and a half positions — two firefighters, two public works employees and one administrative assistant — in the city payroll, may not be the final product. He explained, however, that this was the starting point and should there be surplus in the budget positions would be reinstated.

Toward that end, the members of the public who spoke, including some Fire Department members, asked that the Mayor and City Council prioritize, and make the firefighters a priority for reinstatement.

Mayor Grenier said that more would be known about the feasibility of the surplus covering the positions around the third week of June. He added that the city's $1.3 million unpaid tax burden makes the situation more difficult. "We have a pretty serious problem in that regard," he said of the unpaid taxes.

He added that the current tax rate stands at $31.70 per thousand, and the budget the council presented to the public would bring that to $32.38 per thousand.

Berlin Fire Chief Randall Trull addressed the matter of the budget cut to his department pointing out that with the city's aging infrastructure safety is a concern. He thanked the council for their efforts on the budget, but said cuts to personnel would result in lost response times. "We need our people to stay the best," he said.

Grenier explained that the cuts were not ideal, and that the council is trying to find the funds to avoid them. He pointed out that Berlin has the only full-time fire department in Cos County.

Other firefighters also spoke, including Noah Hallgren, who said that he felt the safety of the citizens of Berlin was worth a few cents on the tax rate. Justin Jacques, a firefighter who admitted he would be one of the ones laid off said he is concerned about the reduced staffing opening the door to serious injuries. Heart attacks, broken bones, and other serious fire scene injuries can all come about from too few people trying to do too much, he said.

Citizens who spoke agreed, and asked that the priority be set for the fire department. Rod Bengston said he'd rather pay firefighter salaries out of his taxes than contractual pay increases in other departments. Joe Lapuma also said he'd like to see the firefighters kept over the other positions if it came to that. "I'd rather see a fireman than a garbage man," he said.

Martin Lord & Osman
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