In a city best known as a beach destination, you’d think lifeguard salaries would be a nonnegotiable expense.
But Hollywood, faced with a $20 million budget shortfall, is considering either eliminating or cutting the hours of all 31 part-time lifeguards who represent more than half of the total lifeguarding staff. (The city employs 26 full-timers.)
At a June 15 commission workshop, the consensus seemed to be that lifeguard stations at the northern and southern ends of the beach would be left unstaffed Tuesdays through Thursdays, which tend to be the least busy times. But since the budget hasn’t been finalized, details are subject to change.
Still, residents and beach-goers are enraged. Ed Galindo, a 40-year-old Hollywood resident who lives a mile from the beach, has been visiting beach condos to notify people that nearby lifeguard stations may be closing. He’s also started a Change.org petition opposing the cutbacks that has received more than 750 signatures so far.
Among the comments:
“Our family has been a Florida resident for 20 years. We go to Hollywood Beach EVERY month of the year. It is a safe and family oriented place. Every lifeguard is needed! Why risk a life to save a dollar?”
“We are seeing more people on the beach than ever and I can't even imagine the result of reducing staff of the lifeguard team. We need better public protection not less.”
“Hallandale Beach and Dania Beach lifeguards should not have to shoulder the responsibility of lifeguards in Hollywood. Rip currents kill.”
“it’s just common sense,” Galindo says. “The response times are going to be ridiculous. Safety is at stake.” He hopes residents will show up to the city commission meeting September 14 and make their objections known.
Cutting funding for lifeguards is sure to be a politically unpopular move, which may explain why four out of six city commissioners did not respond to requests to comment on whether or not they’d support the change.
Here is what those who did answer our call said:
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“I hope we can find the money so we don’t have to do that,” commented District 4 commissioner Richard Blattner.
District 5 Commissioner Kevin Biederman said he wasn’t opposed to using money from the city’s emergency reserves to fund lifeguard salaries for the next year. “Lifeguards aren’t just there to save lives; they’re there as a face of the city, answering questions from residents and visitors,” he said, adding, “There are other positions in the city that are much less important than lifeguards.”
“I’m not going to get caught in that trap,” Biederman answered. “I think people have an idea — people who watch City Hall know what positions are not as valuable.”