Council discusses second lifeguard budget proposal

NEWPORT BEACH — Fewer permanent lifeguards may be laid off under an alternative budget proposal reviewed at this week's City Council study session.

In the latest of an ongoing series of meetings to draft the 2011-12 fiscal budget, council members and the public were presented with Alternative B. The plan calls for reducing four full-time positions, compared with Alternative A, which had previously been presented to the council and suggested eliminating seven full-time positions.

Alternative B would result in one full-time lifeguard losing his or her job at the end the of summer, Lifeguard Battalion Chief Rob Williams said.

While the city has 17 lifeguard positions accounted for in the current budget, only 13 of those slots are filled, he said.

Alternative B would involve a restructuring of the department that would eliminate those vacancies. It also calls for getting rid of one boat and decreasing seasonal staff by 35 from current part-time staff levels which is about 200. Combined, the cuts would save the city $600,000 a year, he said.

Alternative A would save the city $700,000 a year, according to the study session presentation co-led by Williams.

"It basically keeps our beaches safe," Williams said of Alternative B. "It enables us to continue services to be provided at a high level, where the other plan we might have had to look at sacrificing some of that.

"With this one, we're confident that the way we restructure will enable the department to keep staff levels the way it is now."

However, Williams said that lifeguards will still be patrolling the water and that the day-to-day number of those on the beach will not decrease. The seasonal staff cuts will be made over time by hiring fewer recruits in the future rather than by implementing layoffs, he said.

The second plan has been met with criticism from the Assn. of Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards, which represents the part-time lifeguards and leans toward Alternative A. The first plan did not involve any cuts to seasonal staff.

"[Alternative] B is not only detrimental to safety of Newport Beach but to that of part-time lifeguards," said Josh Yocam, association president. "Cutting in half our reserve numbers diminishes our capacity to fill those towers."

A part-time lifeguard fills in when a full-time lifeguard is sick or takes a day off, but without those reserves, more lifeguards would be forced to work over-time hours, Yocam said.

That's not only expensive for the city, but a tired lifeguard is a danger to himself and the person he is attempting to rescue, Yocam said.

Alternative B includes changes to overtime, evening and standby pay. Alternative A would eliminate evening and standby pay altogether.

"You will see the part-time lifeguard association more vocal moving forward," Yocam said. "We will not foot the bill of full-time staff. They ran up the tab with overtime hours and spending and are trying to walk out on that tab."

Both proposals are subject to change by the council before adoption.

The final budget will go before a public hearing and council vote June 14 or 28, according to city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan.

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