Photo by Matt Hinshaw.
City decision on future of Hotshot buggies expected in coming weeks
PRESCOTT – The buggies that the Granite Mountain Hotshots used to get to the fires they fought could be headed to a firefighting museum.
During the Prescott City Council’s discussion this week of possibly selling Fire Station 7 where the Hotshots were based before 19 crew members died in June 2013 fighting Yarnell Hill Fire, the future of the buggies also arose.
Amanda Marsh, the widow of fallen Hotshot Superintendent Eric Marsh, suggested to the council that the buggies be donated to a firefighting museum.
Council members asked Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light to follow up on the issue and bring back information on possible donation or sale of the buggies at a future meeting – either in late February or early March.
The Sixth Street fire station from which the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew worked, and ultimately responded to their final call is among the properties the City of Prescott is eying for possible sale.
That possibility, in turn, has led families of the fallen Hotshots – 19 of whom died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013 – to put out a call to the community: “Save Station 7.”
The Prescott City Council heard from several of the family members and other Hotshot advocates Tuesday, Feb. 7, after discussing the possibility of selling off “unneeded” city properties to raise revenue to pay down the city’s more than $78 million of unfunded liability with the public-safety pension program (PSPRS).
This week’s meeting was the latest in the council’s ongoing discussion of how to deal with the growing pension shortfall. Selling off unneeded city property was one of the options that remained after the council narrowed down the revenue ideas this past week. At that time, council members asked city staff to make recommendations on which of the city properties would be most feasible for sale.
The city’s Wildland Station No. 7 was first on the list of “city properties recommended for sale by city staff” that City Real Property Specialist Don Hersh presented to the council this week. Hersh said the 1.3-acre Sixth Street parcel was one of several city properties that could be put for sale within the next six months, if the council so chooses.
While noting that “there is still a small contingent of fire department personnel (at Station 7),” Hersh said those employees could be moved elsewhere, adding that the Sixth Street parcel could be a “nice commercial parcel.”
Several audience members suggested the building should be retained and preserved.
Ted Ralston, former supervisor of the city’s wildland fuels crew, for instance, maintained that while it is important for the council to deal with the PSPRS debt, “You also have a responsibility to preserve the legacy of the community, and the Sixth Street station is an important part of that legacy.”
And Deborah Pfingston, the mother of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft, urged the council to give the families time to look into ways of putting the station to use – possibly for wildland training, or firefighting education.
After the meeting, she said the families would be putting out a call to the community to “Save Station 7.” She added that she hopes local residents would get involved in coming up with ideas for preserving and using the building.
The council made no decisions at Tuesday’s study session, but asked staff to provide information about the estimated value of the various properties. Officials say they do not yet have an approximate value of the Sixth Street property, and council members asked to discuss the issue in closed-door executive session on Tuesday, Feb. 14.
City Manager Michael Lamar said after the meeting that the property-sale issue likely would also come up again at the council’s public study session at 1 p.m. Feb. 14. Another possible option for paying down the PSPRS debt by using a portion of the city’s reserve fund also likely will be discussed, Lamar added.
The Sixth Street property was just one of the properties under consideration for sale. Others include:
• A 0.68-acre parcel on South Alarcon Street, near the intersection with Aubrey Street. The parcel currently is used occasionally as parking for the Boys and Girls Club, Hersh said.
• A 12.8-acre parcel adjacent to the Humane Society, off Sundog Ranch Road. A portion of the property is leased to the Humane Society, but city officials say the remainder, which has steep topography, could be sold for other uses.
• A 94.18 parcel south of Goldwater Lake, which is currently leased by the Friendly Pines Camp. Hersh said the current lease, which brings $16,000-per-year into city coffers, runs through 2023.
• A six-acre parcel in Chino Valley adjacent to the city water tanks. Hersh said a portion of the parcel, which is located along Highway 89 frontage, could be sold.
The options for paying down the PSPRS liability have come up in recent months as the council’s Strategic Plan Committee has looked at ways to stabilize the city’s general fund.
Other remaining ideas include: Taking a sales-tax increase to the voters in August; borrowing money, either from the city’s reserve fund, from other city departments, or through bonding; continuing to work for statewide pension relief/reform; and reducing spending and pursuing alternative service delivery options.
Council members plan to conduct weekly study sessions until they reach a decision on the sales-tax ballot language and/or other funding options.