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Sat, May 25

PRESCOTT CITY COUNCIL ELECTION: Candidates state their positions on Hotshots benefits

Q: How should the city handle the issue over benefits for the seasonal Hotshots who died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire?

Mayoral candidates

Lindsay Bell: "Unfortunately, I can't give you a definitive answer on whether the city should or shouldn't give full benefits (to the seasonal Hotshots). I don't have the facts, and I haven't been privy to the discussions, so I really think it would be inappropriate to inject my opinion.

"But I do think it's appropriate to say the city should explore all options. I don't know if it's possible to extend full-time benefits to the part-time seasonal folks. But if it's not possible, the city should explore other options to equalize those benefits (such as the bills that State Rep. Andy Tobin has proposed; possible payment of a year of health-insurance premiums; or partnering with a nonprofit organization on an endowment)."

On the separate question of whether one or more of the seasonal Hotshots was actually a full-time employee, Bell said: "I would suggest that we submit that to an outside investigator to review those facts."

Marlin Kuykendall: "The city can't handle (the benefits issue) until there's some definition of what the state's going to do.

"The city is not in a position to pay those payments, and it would be illegal.

"I hope there's an accommodation from the state.

"The city attorney tells us the law's the law."

City Council candidates

Steve Blair: "The City of Prescott can't do anything. We can't retroactively ask an insurance company to go back and give coverage to those who weren't covered.

"If you're going to change something, the system needs to be changed. The real question is the health coverage for the wives and children into the future. That needs to involve the state and federal governments. It's something bigger than the City of Prescott.

"It's not that I don't have a heart for the firefighters; I care about them a lot. I would hope that this catastrophe lends itself to doing something better in the future to protect our employees."

Alan Dubiel: "I believe the Daily Courier should not be making this a campaign issue but I will answer and trust that the Daily Courier will do the right thing. I do not know all that the city has done but would expect it to leave no stone unturned to find a way to provide whatever benefits it can to all the dependents of the 13 fallen Hotshots that the city says were not permanent employees, and to pursue state funding for what it cannot do.

"Our protectors should not have been separated into benefit classes then or in the future."

Ellie Laumark: "We cannot retroactively go back and change a policy after the fact. If the state wishes to do something, that's up to them, but the City of Prescott cannot. What we need to do is look forward.

"I think we have to really think twice about another Hotshot team. With the liability issues, I'm not sure whether we can afford that program. It would be nice to have a defensible-space team through PAWUIC (Prescott Area Wildland Urban Interface Commission).

"We need to learn lessons from this."

Greg Lazzell: "From my understanding, they are getting benefits, but they signed something saying they wouldn't get the full benefits."

Concerning the idea of paying the survivors the same benefits that the families of the permanent Hotshots will receive, Lazzell said, "In this case, we're talking millions of dollars, and setting a precedent. And it might even be against the law.

"Do I feel bad that they aren't getting the same benefits? You bet. But we would be setting a precedent for years to come."

Len Scamardo: "They get workers' compensation. They get Social Security. The only thing they're not getting is the union (retirement) benefit, and they didn't pay into the union.

"Either the state or federal government ought to pay some benefits to them. They're not working in the city. The Hotshots were basically working on state and federal land, and the federal government ought to pay the benefits. They're going to have to do a lot of selling to convince me to provide health and retirement benefits to part-time seasonal workers.

"I don't know why the city decided that we're going to have our own Hotshot team. I have some serious thought, if I'm re-elected, as to whether or not we want to have the risk and responsibility of having the only municipal Hotshot team in the country."

Jean Wilcox: "First, we need to see what the state will provide in the way of compensation to the surviving immediate family members of the 19 Hotshots. If the state is not willing to assist, then the city should explore other options.

"I believe it is ethically and morally wrong for the city not to provide seasonal and part-time public safety (fire and police) personnel with health and life insurance benefits. Eligibility for pension benefits is defined by the Public Safety Retirement System and is beyond our control. For health and life insurance, the city should explore structured settlement options for any dependent survivor who files a good faith claim.

"Another possibility is asking the voters to approve a sales tax increase for a set period of time. Let the voters express their compassion.

"Let's look at options rather than just saying no."


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