Tracking Station Beach to go unguarded as county approves budget

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Swimmers at Tracking Station Beach will enter the water at their own risk beginning in October. The Indian River County Board of Commissioners approved the budget without making provisions for keeping lifeguards stationed at the beach.

“We’ve bent over backwards,” said Joe McManus, a member of the county’s Ocean Rescue Division, in trying to identify funds within the agency’s own budget to secure money to pay for part time coverage at the beach.

The group found $10,000 within its operating expenses it believes could go a long way to cover the estimated $21,000 needed. McManus asked the county to make up the difference through its reserve for contingencies.  

“That budget is really tight,” Jason Brown said of the Ocean Rescue Division’s operating expenses. Brown is the county’s budget director. “There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”

Two other residents spoke in support of finding funds to keep a lifeguard at the beach.

Peter Paskowski, a resident of Village Green, told commissioners that he has visited every beach in the county. One day he went swimming and caught sight of the lifeguard making some sort of gesture to him – being from New Jersey, he didn’t know what the lifeguard meant, he said.

He began swimming toward shore only to discover that he was being pulled backward. The lifeguard came to his aid and pulled him safely to shore.

“That’s all I want to say,” Paskowski said.

Before passing the budget, commissioners asked how the beach would be protected if there were no lifeguards stationed there and what the county’s liability would be.

County Administrator Joe Baird told the commissioners that none of the guarded beaches are guarded the entire time they are open. Instead, there are signs that inform beachgoers as to when the guard is and is not on duty.

For Tracking Station Beach, the county would post a sign warning swimmers that it is an unguarded beach.

Baird also told commissioners that staff would continue to work with the Ocean Rescue Division to try to find a way to put a lifeguard back at the beach and warned that this would not be the first tough choice they would have to make.

Baird told them that they can expect double-digit budget cuts again for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which would be even more challenging given the $83 million the county has already cut from the budget, which currently stands at $302 million.

“You’ve got more of these decisions to make,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

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