The city of Kent might not provide lifeguards at Lake Meridian Park this summer because of a lack of job applicants.
Mayor Dana Ralph told the City Council at its May 18 virtual meeting that the program is close to being dropped due to just three applicants while 16 to 20 lifeguards are needed. She said a couple of those applicants didn’t have experience or certification.
“We have been desperately trying to find lifeguards to staff the program this year,” Ralph said.
Councilmember Bill Boyce asked Ralph if pay is the issue or what’s causing the lack of interest in the job.
“It’s nothing different, they are in the $16 (per hour) range,” Ralph said. “I think the issue is a couple of things. Covid is still an issue with the close proximity to other people.
“But there is a lack of applicants for part-time positions when unemployment pays far more than a part-time job is paying. I’m hearing it from our restaurants, service organizations and other cities. All applications are down for part-time summer help in public works and parks and it’s a problem all surrounding cities also are facing.”
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.
Ralph said the city of Maple Valley had only a couple of applicants for its lifeguard jobs.
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 last year to restore the lifeguard program for this summer.
“We have not made the final call, but we are very very close to not being able to provide it,” Ralph said. “And it’s not a lack of funding.”
Councilmember Marli Larimer asked that one more social media push be done by the city in an effort to find applicants.
Councilmember Brenda Fincher encouraged reaching out to high school students, who might not be eligible for unemployment payments.
Boyce said he has concerns about drownings without lifeguards at the popular park.
Ralph said if the lifeguard program is dropped, the city would do an education campaign and post signs at the park in an effort to make swimmers aware of no lifeguards being on duty.
“Bottom line is without staffing, we will not have a program this year,” Ralph said. “That does not mean it will not come back next year.”
People can apply for the lifeguard positions on the city website at jobs.kentwa.gov/why-work-for-kent.