The city of Kent has canceled its lifeguard program this summer at Lake Meridian Park due to a lack of applicants.
“We were not able to recruit the 16 to 20 lifeguards we need to staff the program,” Mayor Dana Ralph told the City Council at its June 1 virtual meeting.
Ralph told the council May 18 about the lack of applicants as just three people had applied. The city tried a social meeting blitz on its Facebook and Twitter accounts and several local TV news stations reported about the shortage of applicants after a Kent Reporter website story about the issue.
“We’ve had difficulty in recruiting lifeguards, as are most other jurisdictions around our area and there’s a variety of reasons for that,” Ralph said.
Ralph said last month that part-time positions are hard to fill when unemployment pays far more than a part-time job. She said restaurants, service organizations and other cities face a similar problem.
People on unemployment receive pay from the state as well as a $300 weekly payment from the federal government. That federal payment lasts until Sept. 6 as part of the pandemic relief package.
The city lifeguard positions would have paid about $16 per hour, which is less than what many people can collect if they are on unemployment.
“It’s not for a lack of trying and it’s not just a city of Kent issue,” Ralph said about the attempt to fill the jobs.
City parks staff will post extra signage to alert people about no lifeguards being on duty, Ralph said. The park is at 14800 SE 272nd St.
Ralph said funding will remain in the city budget in an effort to return the lifeguard program in 2022.
“We will be out of the pandemic and hopefully not have the same problem,” Ralph said.
The city of Kent took away lifeguards last summer at the Lake Meridian beach because of budget cutbacks due to COVID-19, although that didn’t stop people from diving off the dock and swimming in the marked-off area during hot summer days.
City leaders decided during budget negotiations late last year to restore the lifeguard program for this summer with the expectation that people would fill the part-time jobs.