Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Pay Raise, Bonuses Proposed to Address Lifeguard Shortage

Starting wage would be $15 an hour. Returning guards could earn additional $900 in bonuses next year.

By - Jul 23rd, 2021 05:48 pm
Bradford Beach, July 25th, 2009. Photo by Dave Reid.

Bradford Beach, July 25th, 2009. File photo by Dave Reid.

In response to the lifeguard shortage in Milwaukee County, the Board of Supervisors is advancing legislation to increase pay and offer bonuses to increase recruitment and retention.

In May, as the county Parks Department’s training sessions for lifeguards were wrapping up, the department reported to the county board that it was facing a severe lifeguard shortage.

By early June, it had between 70 and 80 guards. But with few returning guards, and none with beach experience, it announced that Bradford Beach would go unguarded and only four public pools would open for the summer.

It’s not just Milwaukee that’s having trouble finding lifeguards. There’s a national shortage. The cause, locally and across the country, isn’t easily attributable to a single factor.

The county has seen its lifeguard numbers steadily declining in recent years. But the COVID-19 pandemic was a major factor in the severe shortage in 2021.

County pools were closed and beaches went unguarded last year, cutting off the annual return of lifeguards for what is a seasonal job. The pandemic also cancelled training and recertification classes in 2020, disrupting the pipeline for new or returning lifeguards.

Increasing compensation, however, was discussed by supervisors as a possible remedy to the shortage locally.

A new resolution sponsored by Sup. Eddie Cullen authorizes the Parks Department to bump up hourly wages for lifeguards at every pay grade, beginning with a $15 an hour starting wage. It also authorizes a series of bonuses including a $100 referral bonus, a $200 monthly bonus paid out at the end of the season and a $200 return bonus.

The resolution states, “Changes to compensation and training are necessary to attract and retain new and existing lifeguards.”

The board’s Personnel Committee unanimously approved the resolution Friday. It will go before the full board later this month.

The increase in pay and bonuses will cost the department more than $124,000 in 2021 and more than $380,000 in 2022.

James Tarantino, director of business services for the parks department, said the resolution, if passed, would not have any impact on the pool closures or lack of lifeguards during the 2021 season, adding, “This all, hopefully will bear fruit in summer 2022.”

Tarantino said the retention bonus “certainly should help in bringing people back next year.”

The lack of lifeguards is both a public safety issue and a quality of life issue.

Pools and beaches are “highly valued amenities” the resolution notes, and using them is “an important recreation activity for many families.”

There were three drownings at McKinley Beach in 2020. The beach doesn’t have posted lifeguards, even during a normal year, but they nonetheless underscore the need for lifeguards on Lake Michigan.

They were mentioned in the resolution, which stated, “Despite several high-profile drowning deaths in 2020, no lifeguards are available to staff Bradford or McKinley Beaches, largely due to the lack of individuals qualified for open water lifeguarding.”

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Parks

One thought on “MKE County: Pay Raise, Bonuses Proposed to Address Lifeguard Shortage”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    You can’t afford to pay for rent, utilities, transportation, and food on a $10 per hour wage. A $15 per hour wage keeps keeps you out of poverty as long as nothing bad happens in your life. But thank God for Joe Biden because he’s dropped over 20 million pounds of bombs over the past 6 months on Muslim women and children in the Middle East and Africa. And thank God for our worthless Democratic Senator, Tammy Baldwin. I pray that we replace her with someone like Mandela Barnes or Tom Nelson.

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