“The main thing is to look ahead and have a plan ready so that, as funding is available, we know where we want to be (operationally) and can act on those opportunities,” said San Diego Lifeguard Services Chief Rick Wurts. “We recognize the city is still going through its recovery in the budget and that there are many important needs throughout other departments like police and fire. The list of needs we’ve submitted are our top priorities.”
Wurts’ recent budget proposal to the city asked for about $5.28 million over the next five years. This includes $1.77 million in fiscal year 2014-15, to add personnel and address maintenance and equipment needs.
Wurts said his department’s budget proposal was projected over five years “to take a comprehensive look at areas where we felt we could augment operations to be able to continue to provide even better service in all aspects of our operations.”
On Monday, April 14, Mayor Kevin Faulconer released his proposed budget, which will be vetted by the public and City Council in budget deliberations over the next couple of months. The budget will be finalized sometime in June for the new fiscal year starting July 1.
The lifeguard budget proposal requests 15 additional lifeguards and support staff. Faulconer’s budget calls for a $500,000 increase in the city’s current $19.2 million annual lifeguard services expenditures.
“We have 97 full-time lifeguards working year-round, and in the summertime we bring in about 200 seasonal, part-time lifeguards,” Wurts said.
New lifeguards would reportedly be added to La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, South Mission Beach, Windansea and Mission Bay for the boating-safety unit.
Though the lifeguard’s flotilla of watercraft is small — totaling 11 vessels, including two fire boats and nine patrol/surf-rescue vessels — it’s integral to the department’s lifesaving mission.
“We have a cliff-rescue vehicle that sorely needs replacement,” Wurts said. “That’s currently being constructed and we hope to get that delivered to us sometime in January 2015.”
Wurts said another big-ticket item, replacement of a fire boat, is going through vendor selection.
“We’ll hopefully get that boat about 12 months from now,” he said. “We’re setting chunks of money aside over the next 20 years or longer so when a boat comes due for replacement, there’s money that’s been set aside. Our goal is to pre-plan for when these things start coming due.”
There’s also funding set aside in the lifeguards’ five-year plan to expand lifeguard headquarters at Mission Bay.
“We’ve shared that facility with the Park and Recreation Department for decades,” said Wurts. “We need some additional lifeguard headquarters for things we want to do.”
One way lifeguards could be getting more space is through the conversion of a carpenter garage used by Park and Rec at Quivira Basin into a boating safety unit locker room and sleeping quarters.
“’It’s a really big footprint (garage) and used by only one person,” Wurts said. “We’re in the process of identifying another space to relocate all that shop equipment. We’re hoping to build out that same space into a large locker room and sleep facilities for our emergency lifeguards who work 24-hour shifts.”
Wurts noted supporting lifeguards is important, not only for their rescue function but for the “preventative” work they do.
“Last year, we made more than 251,000 preventative actions,” said Wurts, pointing out such actions involve activities like “lifeguards seeing people too close to a rip current and warning them to move further north or south.
“There is a tremendous amount of activity that goes on along the coastline to make sure that our beaches are safe,” he said.