The recent $17.9 million bond measure went to the voters and was shot down by nearly 13 percent. During the process, there were two groups — for and against the bond — who were outspoken in public meetings and through advertising in the media.
Neither group was officially associated with the SFD. During the meeting, Kazian took about 15 minutes to address the decision for the bond and defend his staff and himself over comments made in the last several months. He said the purpose of him addressing the board and audience was to clarify where they go from here, now that the bond election is over.
“I would also like to clarify a few misconceptions that were deployed during the election,” he said. “I think there may have been some people with facts confused or their political agenda was such that there was intent to misrepresent facts. Election laws made it difficult for me to effectively address those issues at the time. With the election behind us, I think it is only fair for the public to be informed on where things truly are.”
SFD staff, with the help of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee who met nearly a dozen times, made a recommendation to the board after studying the issues at great length, he said. Most of the expenses outlined in the bond proposal were for fire stations, which included replacing two and making upgrades to two others.
They also talked about the need for telecommunication equipment upgrades and fire apparatus replacement.
“Starting with the buildings, the costs used were truly estimates, and not quotes, as we do not have engineered drawings,” he said. “The figures were ballpark and used to develop costs to plug in. We engaged with a company called CORE Construction who has worked on dozens of fire stations in Arizona and around the country. They have worked successfully in providing these estimates to other fire districts and came highly recommended by my peers."
“Their involvement in this process in no way, shape or form would guarantee them a contract with Sedona Fire District.”
The concept of using a bond to pay for long-term capital needs was designed to spread out the cost of these projects over a longer period of time, Kazian said.
The cost of the projects financed over 20-plus years would certainly have incurred interest, he said. During the election, he said some people publicly said they do not like to pay interest. Personally, he said he concurs with that statement in his personal finances.
“If we took the advice of some who spoke during the election, their suggestion was to raise taxes to the $3.25 cap [mil rate] and save up enough money to pay for the projects,” he said. “Let me be clear. This method would significantly raise your fire district taxes greater than already experienced and greater than with the bond.”
There was talk about SFD foregoing capital projects to pay for “lavish” salaries and benefits, he said. In the last decade, he said the majority of their funding decisions have some connection to the Great Recession and recovering from that.
“About the 30 percent increase in salaries that was sold as the truth in the election — I will tell you that on my arrival, salaries had been frozen for a few years and morale was terrible,” he said. “A concerted effort was made to increase morale and deal with frozen salaries. Simply put, we needed to maintain our workforce and assure salaries were in compliance with market value and benchmarking with inflation.”
Kazian said that in 2012, a starting firefighter/EMT was making $13.71 an hour. In Fiscal Year 2017-18, the starting hourly wage for that same employee is $15.23 an hour.
“Yes, a starting firefighter — with extensive mandatory certifications and education — trained to save lives begins their career at cents above the new minimum wage,” he said. “Also, take into consideration inflation and how that plays into this change in hourly pay and we are basically pacing with the same social security increases many of our residents have experienced.”
Kazian said that as the fire chief, he expects to be the target of many complaints and criticisms. He said that comes with the territory. What he did not anticipate were the personal attacks against him and his staff.
“What I would not expect would be people attacking my personal character and the passion in which I serve our community,” he said. “I was called arrogant, out of control, lacking leadership and fiscally mismanaging the district. Those are reckless and borderline libel/slanderous statements to my character and credibility. They are unmerited and in some cases, the opposite of what has really happened under my leadership."
“I have devoted my last six years to making tough decisions for our employees when it comes to salaries and benefits. I have worked to develop a sustainable solution path for us to follow while also realizing that employee satisfaction is real.”
Kazian concluded by saying the continued turnover of leadership just because some people are out there lobbing grenades is not a healthy solution. He said he will look to duck and cover and will continue leading through challenging times.
“I will be at the front line navigating the tough times and appreciating the smooth sailing times,” he said. “That is what a leader does. I always have, and always will, have my door open. I love talking to the community and sharing what is happening in and around SFD. What I will not do is allow people to sabotage the hard work of the last 60 years or perpetuate lies and mistruths about SFD.”
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