BERLIN — Berlin town leaders carried out a necessary but somber task Monday, officially declaring a pair of open seats on the town council — one of which resulted from the tragic death of council member Bruce Bentley, who passed away earlier this month following a car accident.
Bentley, 55, died on Sept. 3 after his car collided with another vehicle driven by 24 year-old Patrick Mize of Cullman, who also passed away from his injuries. Bentley had served on the council since last year, when the body appointed him to fill a previous vacancy.
On Monday, the council filled its state-required obligation to declare Bentley’s council seat vacant, as well as that of former council member Jimbo Quick. Quick had to give up his council seat after relocating his residence outside the town of Berlin, leaving the council with two openings that must be filled, according mayor Patrick Bates, by November of this year.
Monday’s council meeting was a specially-called one to address the pair of vacancies, as well as to discuss the town’s upcoming budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. As with other municipalities, the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, leaving the council to pass its required new budget before the end of this month.
The council took no action on any budget measures at Monday’s meeting, discussing only a handful of major appropriations that might find their way into the final budget. Chief among those is a tentative agreement among council members to set aside $20,000 out of next year’s General Fund as a potential match for any grants the town might seek to pay for a new walking trail and park facility.
Though the numbers as well as budgeted items could change in the final version, Berlin also is eyeing $30,000 in capital funding as part of next year’s budget, which already has been marked as matching spending for a grant-funded storm shelter. Next year’s road fund tentatively includes $50,000 in fresh spending (on top of additional money that should carry over from the current year).
The council also discussed increasing the work schedule of town clerk Kierstyn Montgomery to legally-defined full-time hours, a move that would require the town to provide the position with health insurance and a state-attached retirement plan. Bates noted that any such town-instituted policy, if approved, would likely set a precedent that would apply to other eligible employees in the future.