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Column: Why a Tusayan Fire District agreement is important

By Brady Harris

Vice mayor of Tusayan

I wish to clear the air and to address some fallacies that are currently circulating. Over the last month you may have heard or read individuals claiming I am trying to defund the Tusayan Fire District, or TFD. You may have even received a letter from an anonymous “Tusayan Resident”. These people have blatantly disregarded facts and chosen instead to present a false narrative in hopes of vilifying me and the town. They should hold themselves to the same standards they expect of other public officials.

Some say that I am trying to defund the Fire Dept. This is false. In June/July of 2020, I pushed the Tusayan Town Council to budget $720,000 for the Tusayan Fire Department. This included over $335,000 in general funds for salaries and $385,000 for capital improvements (building/loan and new equipment). All of this depends on an IGA, or Inter-Governmental Agreement and is any agreement that involves or is made between two or more governments in cooperation to solve problems of mutual concern. These agreements are vital for entities of government to define how they interact with each other. This IGA would ensure the money is being appropriately spent and the residents of town receive an equitable benefit that exceeds the current minimum requirements set forth by ARS 48-805, that TFD is lawfully required to provide to its constituents.

Also, The Tusayan Fire District leadership should not have to petition the town every year for funding, this IGA is needed to ensure consistent funding is provided for many years into the future.

The town approached the tire district board and was informed by the fire district chairman, that they would prefer the lawyers to handle the negotiations. TFD chose to retain county attorney, Brian Furuya. The town chose outside representation in Pierce Coleman. They have performed numerous IGA negotiations between fire districts and towns throughout Arizona.

That is where the negotiations have stalled, waiting on the Tusayan Fire District to come to the table, and work out an agreement. The money is budgeted but cannot be provided until an agreement has been reached. Instead, the Tusayan Fire Board have threatened to pass ordinance 2020-05, an ordinance to charge businesses and residents of Tusayan for their services.

The residents of Tusayan deserve better. They deserve a fire dept that provides timely response to emergencies. Showing up last to a plane crash, within Tusayan town lines and sight of the fire station, showcases TFD’s inability to prioritize calls within their own jurisdiction. We thank the National Forest Service and National Park Service for their incredible response. It was timely and serves as a benchmark to the collaborative effort we need.

Our first responders deserve better. Better pay, better training opportunities, better collaboration, and leadership that keeps politics out of their fire station. In the latest TFD board meeting, TFD spoke openly against the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and the service they provide. The sheer task that CCSO has of patrolling nearly 18,661 square miles, over roughly 100 times the size of the Tusayan Fire District, is remarkable and I want to thank the concerted effort of the sheriff’s office

Tusayan Fire District is not a part of the town of Tusayan. They are a part of our community, but they are a political subdivision with their own district board and laws governing themselves. They have their own tax revenues, shared revenues, and grant opportunities.

In 2013, the Tusayan Fire District Board chose to relinquish their CON, or Certificate Of Necessity, that enabled them to provide ambulance transport and EMS services to their district. Guardian Medical Transport became the holder of the districts CON and began to collect revenue. Last year alone, Guardian made nearly $1,250,000 in revenue, generating $700,000 in profit solely off the Tusayan district. The cost of an ambulance ride nearing $4,000 or more. As Guardian profited off Tusayan, the fire district expanded their expenses, exceeding their budget, regularly sweeping funds that were set aside for maintenance and improvements. They have also refused to sign an IGA enabling them to perform and bill for wildland fire services. Missing out on potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

I will not cower in anonymity. As always, If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out anytime at brady.harris@tusayan-az.gov or call me (928) 856-4699.

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