Battle over benefits divides small town of Prescott - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Battle over benefits divides small town of Prescott

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. -

The city of Prescott lost 19 of its own battling the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30th. Some say it has been impossible to move forward through the tragedy with the battle over survivors' benefits being waged.

In light of the tragedy, the city of Prescott came together in an amazing show of love and support for the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Now, less than two months later, the battle over benefits for fulltime hotshots and seasonal hotshots may be taking its toll.

The damage this battle is causing is unseen. But in print and online, the battle that is brewing in the small town of Prescott is evident.

The battle over benefits for the families has taken a nasty tone lately and is causing a bitter divide for many in the city dubbed "everyone's hometown."

"It does suck. Honestly, I never thought I'd see it come to this day," says resident Andrew Lutkins.

People who gather in the city's idyllic county square say this battle is painful to watch.

"There are obviously two extremely strong opinions on it but it's clearly divisive and doesn't present a good air about Prescott," says resident Kevin Scheevel.

Pete Wertheim, an employee of the city of Prescott, which has been frequent target of much of the criticism, had this to say.

"We've been through an awful lot. There's a lot of tension and that's a natural stage of grief. There's some anger associated with that. We're very confident we're moving past that and making strides to move in a positive direction."

At issue the 13 seasonal part timer's families stand to receive less than the full timer's families. Millions of dollars are at stake in survivors' benefits -- not to mention the millions collected by charities for the families.

We asked resident Andrew Lutkins, "Do you think the issue is tearing the town apart little by little?"

"Yes, it's causing a lot of feuds."

"Bottom line is it boils down to money and you can't value of lives with money but when people fight over money that actually shadows the tragedy itself," says Scheevel.

Despite the shadow over the city, a small town optimism shine through. This woman insists Prescott will come through this better and stronger.

"Of course Prescott everybody sticks together in Prescott. It's everybody's hometown, it is come up and stay, you'll love you'll love it," says Penny Pescherine.

Wertheim also pointed out that after 9/11, after Aurora and after Newtown, there were the same kinds of battles over money and benefits.

He says consider that there are fires burning now as we speak, and hotshot crews are battling them, and yet the issues of benefits causing this divide have not been resolved between seasonal and full time. If tragedy strikes we will be in the exact same spot -- dealing with the loss.

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