Truck purchased in 2016 for $800,000 would now cost $1.5M to replace
By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Sept. 28, 2023) The Berlin Fire Company hopes to receive a combined contribution of about $350,000 from town government in FY 24, with $200,000 of that total being used to help cover operating costs, and $150,000 being used for capital expenses, fire company President Dave Fitzgerald told the mayor and Town Council last Wednesday.
At least that is how the situation looked as of the company’s first quarterly meeting of the fiscal year with the council.
Fitzgerald said the estimate for the capital expenses was based on a study conducted in April 2018 and current data. The study was conducted by a consultant hired by the town to determine what was needed to provide the appropriate services to protect the town, according to Fitzgerald.
“Studies are studies,” Vice President Dean Burrell replied. “Berlin residents need to know what your assets are, what your operating expenses are and what you need.”
Burrell said that by providing this information, the council and the fire company will be able to all get on the same page.
In addition to the funding the town provides annually, Fitzgerald said the fire company receives $250,000 annually from the county. That contribution, he added, is based on three cents on the tax dollar.
“That needs to go up,” Fitzgerald said. “The three cents formula has been in place since the 1970s.”
The upcoming reassessment of real property in the county — it’s Ocean City’s turn in the year ahead — could raise the amount of money the county provides.
The county also reimburses the fire company $1,000 per call for calls outside of the municipality of Berlin, but if multiple companies are out for one call, only the home fire company is reimbursed.
Fitzgerald estimates the Berlin Fire Company receives about 200 out-of-town calls per year, with the response fee going to the capital apparatus fund.
Fitzgerald also explained to council members other options he has seen used to fund fire companies.
“You can do a tax amount, like the county does. So many cents on the dollar and a [cost] per run. Another choice is so many cents on the dollar for capital and operating. The third, as we do now, present a budget and the town fills in the hole,” he said.
No matter how equipment is paid for, it is becoming extremely expensive, according to Fitzgerald. For instance, Capt. RJ Rhodes said it would cost the company $1.5 million to replace the ladder truck it bought in 2016 for $800,000.
He also noted that standards and technology are always changing and with that, parts for older vehicles go out of production. Currently, Engine 605 is the newest engine, which was purchased in 2018, he said.
The fire company is expecting a new engine to arrive in December 2024 to replace a 1988 engine, at a cost of $977,000.
Inflation also has affected the costs of all fire equipment, including “turnout gear,” the protective coats and pants firefighters wear, which currently costs $500 a set, Rhodes said.
Other capital costs include heart monitors, stair chairs, and breathing devices.
The EMS budget is separate from the fire company budget. For that, Fitzgerald expects to request $450,000 in operating costs, up from $408,000 this year. He also expects to seek $52,000 for the ambulance replacement fund.
Councilmember Steve Green said the numbers sounded reasonable.
This year, the county provided $900,000, with $75,000 for capital expenses.
Fitzgerald also hopes to get the fire company’s EMS contingency fund back up next fiscal year. He estimated that the company should have $300,000 in the fund if it mirrored what the mayor wants to see for the town.
Fitzgerald said he expects personnel costs will rise too, as the company needs to stay competitive with other local companies or it will lose staff.