County maintains position on eliminating lifeguards at budget hearing

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Board of County Commissioners heard a public outcry about cutting two lifeguard positions as part of the next budget, but voted 3-2 Tuesday night to eliminate the jobs.

The commissioners spent about an hour and-a-half at the budget meeting hearing from speakers urging them to keep the lifeguard station at Treasure Shore Beach Park open. There is one more hearing set for next Wednesday after which the 2010-2011 budget will become official.

Speakers came from as far away as Miami Beach to implore the board to find the $119,000 it would need to keep Treasure Shore manned with two lifeguards. The commissioners heard from residents who had been rescued from rip currents at the beach and others who had collected 3,000 petitions asking the lifeguards stay in place.

They also heard arguments about liability should a drowning occur and losing an edge in attracting tourists Indian River County should the beach go unmanned.

“People are attracted to Treasure Shore Beach Park because of its serenity and its natural beauty,” said Frank Bilotta, who helped spearhead the petition drive.

The board even heard from a group from Miami Beach representing the United States Lifeguard Association.

Despite the sometimes passionate presentations, commissioners are facing a $100 million reduction from last year’s $359 million budget. They have also requested, despite falling revenue, that taxes not be raised.

Commissioners Gary Wheeler, Bob Solari and Wesley Davis voted against a motion by Commissioner Joe Flescher to put the $119,000 back in the budget and make cuts elsewhere or pull the money out of contingency funds.

“This is something where there isn’t a clear right or wrong,” Solari said. “There are two  sides  and there  are valid reasons for both sides.”

Flescher and Commissioner Peter O’Bryan voted in favor of keeping the lifeguards fully staffed.The Commissioners voted for initial approval of a millage rate of $6.28 for every $1,000 of taxable value, meaning a resident in the unincorporated county would pay $942 in taxes for a home worth $200,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption. Last year the same person would have owed $940.50 on his $200,000 home.

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