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Council unlikely to appeal Hotshot benefits

Courtesy photo<br>
Andrew Ashcraft and family.

Courtesy photo<br> Andrew Ashcraft and family.

PRESCOTT - The Prescott City Council made it clear Tuesday that it won't try to stop the family of fallen hotshot Andrew Ashcraft from getting more pension benefits.

While the council didn't officially vote yet, four of the six stated during a special meeting Tuesday that they will not support appealing the Prescott Public Safety Retirement Board's decision last month to grant Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) pension benefits to Ashcraft's wife Juliann and their four young children.

"I believe it's time for the community to start healing," Councilor Greg Lazzell said Tuesday before stating he opposed any appeal.

"It's time for us to move on," agreed Councilor Jean Wilcox. "It will cost us some money, but I think it's the right thing to do."

Mayor Marlin Kuykendall was not present and not eligible to vote Tuesday because he serves on the Public Safety Retirement Board. He was the only retirement board member to vote against the Ashcraft benefits. Four others including two Prescott firefighters and two Kuykendall appointees voted in favor.

Councilor Chris Kuknyo was the only council member Tuesday to voice support for an appeal to the Yavapai County Superior Court, arguing that it would be best to have an uninvolved third party make the determination.

Councilor Charlie Arnold explained his position in more detail after the meeting.

"If it's legal, I'm not going to stand in the way" Arnold said of the Ashcraft PSPRS benefits, explaining that he's still not clear how it will work to grant those benefits posthumously.

The council directed staff to draft a motion against the appeal and have it ready for a vote before the appeal deadline of July 8.

The council also left open the possibility that it could accept a lump-sum settlement offer from the Ashcraft family. The council discussed the settlement offer in a short executive session Tuesday. Vice Mayor Jim Lamerson said the offer won't be made public at this time.

Ashcraft perished alongside 18 fellow Granite Mountain Hotshots while fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire near Yarnell on June 30, 2013. Only one crew member survived.

Six of the men who died already were enrolled in PSPRS and classified as full-time employees, but Ashcraft was not. His family's attorney argued that he worked full-time hours so he should have been enrolled in PSPRS instead of the Arizona State Retirement System that has much lower benefits.

The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer agreed earlier this year to cover the estimated $5 million cost of covering PSPRS benefits to the families of the six full-time hotshots.

Legislators noted that the hotshots were called to help the state government fight a wildfire that lightning ignited on state trust lands.

The city could be left on its own to cover the estimated $614,800 PSPRS benefits for Ashcraft's family.

"At the end of the day, we lost 19 good people that worked for the City of Prescott," Lamerson said toward the end of the meeting.

He later elaborated that all died in the line of duty and all their families might deserve more.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder


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