Editorials

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT. RESPONSE TO THE TUSAYAN VICE-MAYOR

November 16, 2020

 First, I would like to thank the Voters of Tusayan for their support in electing me to another four year term on the Tusayan Fire District (TFD) Board of Directors. I appreciate the confidence so many expressed with their votes. Thank you! Though I happen to be a Tusayan Fire District and a Tusayan Sanitary District board member, I want to be clear that I this is from John Vail, Tusayan resident.

In the November, 4 Williams-Grand Canyon Newspaper, Vice-Mayor Brady Harris wrote a guest column regarding the need for an (IGA) Inter-Governmental Agreement between the Town of Tusayan Board of Directors and the Tusayan Fire District Board of Directors. The letter had claims that should be corrected. He made it clear the letter was as the Vice-Mayor. Not as a Tusayan Fire District Candidate or resident, but seemingly on behalf of the town.

In 2013, TFD was on the verge of having to close it’s doors. The market drop in 2008 took a devastating blow to land valuations. This impacted property taxes that the school and fire district depend on. Sadly, those valuations have not come back nearly fast enough. Unlike many other districts in the state, it is not feasible for TFD to combine with other districts and pool resources in order to survive. TFD is just too rural. The TFD board went to the town to ask for help. The town was very supportive then and has continued to be a great partner with TFD since. The community funds the town gives TFD has allowed it to be fully staffed, given them the ability to stay open, lower response times, increase the community’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating and increase the health and safety of our families and, usually, over 6 million visitors a year. I feel that it is one of the greatest things the town has to be proud of and the community and TFD have been extremely grateful!

TFD is a public agency and has always been transparent with the budget and spending practices. It has always operated on a tight budget and current and past administrations have done an incredible job of eliminating all unneeded expenses. TFD receives a required annual audit that is reviewed by the TFD board and Coconino County. These financial reports are and have always been open to the public. For the record, when the town was supporting TFD, they always received a monthly financial report.

I agree that an IGA would be beneficial but it is not legally needed for TFD to accept donations. Vice-Mayor Harris makes it sound as if TFD is the reason for the delay in funding. The town has been making charitable donations to the district for years without an IGA and it has not been an issue until the town made it one. Not TFD. There is no reason for that not to continue while the two agencies work on an agreement. I agree that an agreement should be worked out so the district doesn’t have to petition the town for money every year. TFD has already asked for a a five year agreement but has seemed to have been overlooked until now.

The last time an IGA was created between the town and TFD, the managers of the two agencies (the Fire Chief and the Town Manager) worked together to write a draft IGA for their perspective boards and legal council to edit and approve. This is what the TFD Board expressed to the town after they formed a “committee” made up of Vice-Mayor Harris, who has been bullish and councilman Al Montoya, who has publicly denounced TFD and stated that he would “no longer support the Fire Department.” The TFD board stated that they thought it would be more appropriate to start working on the IGA with the newly seated town council and the newly seated fire board (as this discussion began just before the election). What TFD received next was a letter from the town’s new interim attorney, with many inaccuracies, threatening to take possible legal action against TFD since the town and TFD didn’t have a current IGA in place. Fire districts can accept donations and the town has been making charitable donations to the district. 

 The Vice-Mayor mentioned that the TFD Board has “Threatened” to pass ordinance 2020-05, charging Tusayan residents and businesses for service. This was an 11th hour solution on the table as a way for TFD to survive without the Town’s financial support. The TFD board declined to pass it.

 Vice-Mayor Harris called into question the district’s “inability to prioritize calls within its own jurisdiction” and that Tusayan “deserves a fire department that provides timely response to emergencies.” This is just disrespectful and disgraceful to our first responders. TFD has done nothing but improve response times for calls and are very proud of the fact! It is another reason for the great new ISO rating. As far as TFD being last to the plane crash, TFD only has one crew at a time, were on a medical call south of town and responded as quickly as possible. TFD has Shared Service Agreements with The Kaibab National Forest (KNFS), Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) Fire and Safety, The State Forester, Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) and The Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) specifically for these reasons. It has been argued in the past that TFD should only respond within the district boundaries. The closest emergency response to Tusayan is almost 50 miles to the south. If you or your family is in an accident on HWY 64, would you want TFD to show up? I sure would! The Shared Service Agreements ensure that all agencies are aware when they may need to be on call and it works very well. The plane crash is an excellent example. ADOT firefighters were key on this call and The KNFS and NPS were great partners as well. There was no lack of service.

 TFD and the Coconino County Sheriffs Office (CCSO) have a great working relationship and for the Vice-Mayor to insinuate anything to the contrary is just poor form.

 

Vice-Mayor Harris stated that our first responders deserve better pay, better training opportunities, better collaboration and leadership that keeps politics out of their fire station. What a typical political statement. I agree that they deserve better pay. Maybe the town could help with that again? TFD has great training opportunities and they take full advantage of every opportunity they can find. TFD’s collaboration with NPS, KNFS, ADOT, CCSO, Arizona Fire District Association (AFDA) and the Arizona Highway Patrol has been instrumental in being able to provide that great training. I don’t know what “politics” he is referring to but the community seems, by election, happy with the current leadership at TFD.

 

Mr. Harris stated that TFD is not “part of the Town of Tusayan” It is part of the community that includes the town. Yes, TFD is it’s own political subdivision with it’s own Board of Directors and laws that govern them and it was long before Tusayan became an incorporated town. They have their own tax revenues, shared revenues, and grant opportunities. As I’ve already stated, TFD could not operate at it’s current level on those revenues alone. TFD is very aggressive at finding and applying for grants. They have submitted for every federal, state, tribal, county or special interest grant that they know of and have done so for may years. They have been awarded hundreds of thousands to date. Great job TFD! 

 

In response to the Vice-Mayor’s statement that TFD relinquished the Certificate Of Necessity (CON) providing ambulance transport and EMS services to the District, I have no idea where he got this. TFD has NEVER had the CON and where he came up with the amounts of revenue Guardian makes must have been pulled out of thin air. The estimated cost for TFD to obtain the CON is between $500,000 and $2,000,000 and it wouldn’t be guaranteed. TFD would have to hire 3 or more paramedics, 3 or more EMT’s and buy an additional ambulance. Guardian actually operates the TFD satellite at a a loss. On the other hand, TFD does collect revenue from Guardian by renting them quarters.

 

TFD has NEVER EXCEEDED THEIR BUDGET. Vice Mayor Harris has recently asked for the TFD by-laws; copies of the yearly TFD financial audits for the last 5 years; copies of TFD budgets and financial statements over the last 5 years. As TFD is a fully transparent public body and all of the items were given to him, he should know better than to mislead the community about this. TFD doesn’t sweep funds. Sometimes, as in any budget, things happen that are out of your control. You may have budgeted for a new couch but your refrigerator dies. Sometimes a firetruck has an unexpected transmission issue. We all have to adjust and make the decisions about priorities that are most important but work within our budgets. That is exactly what TFD has done.

 

Before the town started helping the district, TFD had two full time and one part time employee and a handful of volunteers that, many, had changed on a regular basis primarily because they would get trained at TFD and find paid jobs elsewhere. The permanent employees were overworked and underpaid but kept the department going out of sheer love and dedication to this community. They will always be hero’s of mine and of this community. If the district doesn’t receive the financial support from the town’s tax moneys TFD could regress to blackouts of service and slow response times. I hope this isn’t the case.

 

I want to thank our first responders for all they do for our community. You are true heroes and I am proud to be able to be associated with all of you. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished for our community and for being the ones that run to the danger when others run away. You deal with situations that are even horrific at times, but know, that this community is forever grateful that you do. Our heroes have been stressed about their jobs and I am truly sorry. I have been also, but I have faith in our community and do believe/hope it will all work out in the end. 

 

With all that said, and as I told Vice-Mayor Harris, I would like to start over with a clean slate and work with the town on creating an agreement that benefits the community as a whole. The health and safety of our families and our visitors should be the highest priority for us all. The moneys TFD has received from the town is earned on the backs of the hard working citizens of this community. Whabetter way to give back to Tusayan’s hard working residents than to help keep us safe. I have lived in Tusayan for over 30 years and I still see what a great community we have, even if some disagree on a few things now and then. I hold no ill will for Vice-Mayor Harris and hope to work with him in the future. And someday take his blue ribbon at the chili contest!

  

Thank you,

 

JOHN VAIL

Resident of Tusayan