The Arizona city that employed 19 firefighters who died in June said paying benefits to 13 of them classified as seasonal would violate state law.
The city of Prescott said it studied what the financial cost would be to its taxpayers if permanent employee survivor benefits were provided to the families of the seasonal firefighters.
City officials said they used the estimated annual and lifetime cost to pay benefits to the lowest cost beneficiary of the permanent employee survivor benefits as basis for calculation. The estimate is at least $51 million over 60 years.
If annual payments were going to be made, the city said it would be required "to budget and appropriate special line item funding every year for the duration of the lives and eligibility of the beneficiaries."
"This would be a tenuous and unassured proposition since it would be non-binding upon future City Councils and subject to repeated challenges to the 'Gift Clause' prohibition in the Arizona state Constitution," the city said in a statement.
If a one-time payment was made, it would cost the city about $24 million - three times the entire budget of the Prescott Fire Department.
The city's General Fund operating budget for fiscal year 2014 is $30.7 million.
The family of Andrew Ashcraft brought attention to the issue by pleading with city officials for the more lucrative benefits. They say Ashcraft worked full-time hours and was promised a full-time position.
On Tuesday, Division Chief Darrell Willis of the Prescott Fire Department said that he never made that promise and that city employees can't be promoted based on a supervisor's verbal commitment.
An attorney for Ashcraft's wife says the city is oversimplifying legal issues related to his employment.
Juliann Ashcraft issued the following statement on the heels of the city's analysis:
"Every day, it seems, the City of Prescott dribbles out a few more documents and fulltime fire fighter and, thus, that our four children and our family deserve nothing at all in benefits from the City of Prescott.
"Let me again say what I have said all along: That beyond the City's few sheets of paper, there exists a set of facts that speak to Andrew's full-time work for the City of Prescott. Andrew averaged more than 70 hours a week working for the City for all of 2012. He held a supervisory position on the hot shot crew and he was given a raise to full-time pay in February of this year. He received verbal assertions that his promotion a done deal. And he filled what previously had been an approved full-time, fully benefited position.
"We believe that a full accounting of the facts will show that Andrew served Prescott as a full-time employee and that he earned the right to be treated as one.
"I'm sorry that the City of Prescott leadership feels it necessary to drag out this fight in the media, with one press release after another. I hope sometime soon they begin to respond with some compassion, instead of ignoring my repeated requests to meet and speaking to me only through press releases and negative attacks."
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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