Ok, so the big question is, lifeguards on Panama City Beach – everyone else is doing it, why aren’t we? Local officials have argued that the cost is too much and the liability is too great. What!!?? What is everyone else doing? I should quantify “everyone else.”
As reported by the News Herald’s Ed Offley (great article Ed!) lifeguards can be found on the east coast from Jacksonville to Miami and on the Gulf Coast from Sarasota to Naples, not to mention most of the Panhandle has lifeguards posted on the beaches, including Walton County and Destin. As reported, the 43 miles of shoreline in Gulf County doesn’t have any issues with rip currents as it is protected in large part by Cape San Blas.
Bay County has the largest tourist population in the Panhandle counties, according to the article, and is the last hold out when it comes to lifeguarding our beaches.
Walton County’s lifeguard program costs a little over $800,000 a year to fund, and that pays for everything from supplies to salaries to an advertising/awareness campaign to inform tourists of the dangers of swimming in the water and the roles the lifeguards play to help increase safety.
Walton County has a 4% bed tax and funds the lifeguard program from those monies. We have a 3% bed tax and are considered “cheap”. At the strategic planning meeting I attended, it was discussed that we need to increase our bed tax. Some competing tourist destinations are charging twice what we are, and we need the extra money for our skimpy marketing budget. Furthermore, we could use an increase in bed tax funds to fund a lifeguard program. I’m not sure that we are losing that many tourists from this lack so far, but if we don’t get caught up, we will.