Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Proposal Aims To Recruit More Lifeguards

Major lifeguard shortage closed pools in 2021.

By - Nov 3rd, 2021 02:19 pm
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Bradford Beach. File photo by Dave Reid.” width=”1024″ height=”768″ /> Bradford Beach. File photo by Dave Reid.

After last summer, when pools were closed and beaches went unprotected because of a lifeguard shortage, the Milwaukee County Board is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year.

The board passed legislation in July authorizing Milwaukee County Parks to implement a slew of recruitment incentives including pay raises and bonuses for county lifeguards.

Now, the board will consider legislation sponsored by Sup. Shawn Rolland that will provide Milwaukee County Parks with $100,000 to begin recruiting efforts immediately. The department could use the funds to hire a marketing agency to develop a campaign to recruit lifeguards in the county.

Rolland told the board’s finance committee on Monday that he spoke with aquatics organizations and heard “that some of the recruiting for lifeguards and other staff really begins now, or about now.”

The county has seen declining numbers of lifeguards in recent years, which is in line with a lifeguard shortage generally being experienced across the country. But that grew worse when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and pools were shut down: the seasonal process of training and recertification was disrupted and parks saw a huge decline in lifeguard recruits for the 2021 season.

In May, 2021 as the swimming season was set to begin, parks only had 52 guards for an aquatics system that requires more than 200. Though, the county’s aquatics facility had not been fully staffed even before the pandemic. In 2019, there were only 135 guards, which was considered a shortage at the time.

By the time the summer of 2021 began, despite the county budgeting to have all the pools open, only four pools were opened. The county had between 70 and 80 guards and none of them had beach lifeguarding experience, so Bradford Beach went without them.

In his 2022 recommended budget, County Executive David Crowley did not include funding for opening all the county’s aquatic facilities.  For those that were budgeted for, “the actual ability to open these sites as well as the ability to provide lifeguards at Bradford Beach will be determined by the number of lifeguards that Parks is able to recruit, train, and retain,” the parks department budget narrative notes. Crowley’s recommended budget would provide funding to open approximately seven pools around the county, said Jim Tarantino, director of business services for the parks department.

Included in the budget is $40,000 “to support efforts to address swim ability in an effort to reduce drownings and support public safety.”

During the past year, supervisors have repeatedly expressed disappointment and frustration with pool closures and Bradford Beach going unguarded, eventually passing the legislation raising pay and adding bonuses.

On Oct. 19, parks staff brought a report to the board’s Personnel Committee outlining the plan for implementing the new pay scale and lifeguard bonuses for the 2022 swimming season.

In 2022, the starting pay for lifeguards will be $15.82 an hour. The pay range — including assistant head guards, head guards and supervisors — tops out at $29.04 an hour.

All training for lifeguarding positions will be paid for by Milwaukee County Parks; and any guard that completes the training will be eligible for $359 training bonus in July. 

There is also a $100 referral bonus for any lifeguard who successfully refers another guard, and a monthly retention bonus as high as $200 for guards working full time.

So being a county lifeguard will be significantly more lucrative in 2022 than in years past. But are the guards out there and what is the county doing to find them?

Tarantino told the committee that a fully funded aquatics system for the county costs approximately $1.5 million. “The bulk of that cost is labor.” And with three straight years of budgeted pool closures, the county has not been providing full funding to the aquatics facilities in the parks.

Sup. Ryan Clancy proposed an amendment to the 2022 budget that would reallocate approximately $772,000 from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to open additional aquatics facilities. But the budget committee voted against it, with most on the committee citing the likelihood that it would exacerbate the likely MCSO budget deficit in 2022.

Another amendment, sponsored by Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson and Supervisors Jason Haas, Joe Czarnezki, Liz Sumner, Rolland, Clancy and Sequanna Taylor, and approved by the budget committee, includes $1.6 million that, among other things, would provide funding to open aquatics facilities and splash pads. The board will consider adoption of the amendment and the full budget on Nov. 8.

Update: A previous version of this story stated that pools at McCarty, Jackson, Grobschmidt and Hales Corners Parks were budgeted for closure. Crowley’s recommended budget makes no determinations for which pools wouldn’t open in 2022.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

One thought on “MKE County: Proposal Aims To Recruit More Lifeguards”

  1. says:

    Unstated and perhaps unknown to County Board members is that there is a retention problem related to working conditions for life guards. Life guard retention could improve dramatically with better management and working conditions.

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