11 Drowned in 2008, Why Can't We Get Lifeguards?

Tuesday the Bay County Commissioners “balked” at the idea of giving the City of Panama City Beach $108,000 to fund lifeguards at Rick Seltzer Park because of the expense and liability concerns. Seriously?  I mean, come on.  We went through this last year, all the controversy, and we had 11 tourists that drown here on our beaches!  Pensacola has had 4 drownings in five years, Walton County had none last year, we had 11!  Eleven drownings in one year!  That’s more in one year than we’ve ever had!  How does this not deeply concern those in charge?

Today, a Letter to the Editor was published in the News Herald that’s quite good.  In fact, some of the above was sourced from it.  Read it here.

The writer goes on to say that one could make a worthy argument that safer beaches could, in fact, be used as a marketing ploy to help draw people to our area.  We want a WOW marketing campaign, how’s this for a nugget:  “Feel Safe on Panama City Beach” – that will draw families.  How does the bad press look when potential visitors hear about 11 people drowning in our waters in one year, as opposed to none in our neighboring Walton County, whom I might ad is our direct competition.  Are people scared of coming to our beaches?  Are our beaches deemed dangerous to tourists looking to come to our area?  State your opinion in the comments section.

I understand there are legal ramifications for everything and liability issues with every action we as a community make, but why aren’t we taking tourism and city officials from our neighboring areas out to lunch to pick their brains on how they are doing it.  This isn’t some novel idea that no one’s figured out how to do.  Communities are doing this, communities have been doing this for a long time, there is a formula that works, and we need to employ it in Panama City Beach.

The author of the article reminds us that Chairman Jerry Girvin backed away from supporting this Tuesday after receiving conflicting reports from lawyers concerning liabilities of the County.  What!?  So, find another lawyer, read the precedents he proposes and make a more informed decision.  Again, others are doing this, and the success is obviously apparent.

Commissioner Mike Thomas was concerned about the idea of spending $100k on something that primarily benefited tourists.  Yea, benefitted tourists LIVES.  100 grand to save a few lives is more than worth it – the good publicity we’d get off it alone would make it worth our while, saving lives would be icing on the cake.  Oh, and may I remind you that tourists are the lifeblood of our area?  We have NO industry here except tourism.  We scare them off, we’re screwed.

Now, Back to Regularly Scheduled Bashing

Notes from Today’s TDC Meeting

  • Bed Taxes are up $117,000 thanks to back-taxes being collected.
  • The Circus by the Sea is more than likely coming back.  Maybe it will draw more crowds next year.
  • The CVB has a new interactive marketing manager coming on board.
  • Rowe distributed estimates of costs of strategic plan proposals to board.  I’ll be asking for copies of those to post here soon.
  • Mayor Gayle Oberst explained that Panama City Beach could not use bed taxes to fund lifeguards.  As one Marketing Committee member told me later, it’s a good thing we’re smarter than Walton county on that issue.  I have a lifeguard manifesto brewing; I’m sure it’ll come out any day now.
  • The TDC’s market research firm, Klages, is up for contract renewal, and the board showed concern that the 2008 results were not worth the investment.  Tabled.  Marketing Research, tabled.

Now to the juicy stuff…

Spring Break is heating up quickly… Spring Break funding was tabled after Dan Rowe requested approval on the MTVu plan ($150K CVB, $100K co-op).

Chairman Andy Phillips and Marketing Committee Chairman Buddy Wilkes questioned whether the co-op could really raise $100K. Mr. Rowe believes so; however lodging leaders stepped up quickly and said that because of the exclusive booking deal MTVu has with Student City, they would not participate in that co-op.

Board member Mike Bennett suggests the funding should go into a different Spring Break program.  Dan Rowe suggested that if it’s not MTVu, then put the money in something other than Spring Break.  Jack Bishop said the Klages report proved the CVB should invest the $150,000 into Spring Break. (It’s getting good!)

Folks in the audience suggested that only the Boardwalk benefited from the 2008 Spring Break plan.  (It’s really getting good!)

There was a hint that there may be another Spring Break community workshop. The marketing committee will address the issue before the next TDC meeting on November 6.  (Don’t you think this is going to get good!?)

And More Utter Disregard for the Special Event Policy

The Board unanimously approved 2009 funding for the Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine, & Music Festival.  Wow.  Wasn’t even on the agenda.

Special Event Side Note – Do you realize that 3.25 million dollars worth of lodging has to be brought in to raise $65K in bed taxes?

If PCBSWMF would have reported the need for $65,000 invested in the infrastructure at Frank Brown Park for next year’s event, that would be different.  PCBSWMF Promoter Jack Bishop stated that the event could not serve 30,000 attendees as reported by previous promoters. Hopefully PCBSWMF will use all $65K to improve the infrastructure.  We’ll see.

Speaking of we’ll see, we’ll see the full PCBSWMF report next month.  Hopefully that report will include exactly how and where the 2008 TDC investment was spent.

In the meantime, we sure would like to have other promoters comment here with your thoughts on the TDC’s Special Events “Policy.”

If I misinterpreted anyone’s comments from today’s meeting, please email me at lancaster.kirk@gmail.com, or even better yet, clarify your message right here in the comments section.

9/2/08 TDC/CVB: Budget Approved Without Any Changes

8 of the 9 board members were present for the special meeting that was called last Friday. Absent was Mike Nelson. Public attendance was probably the smallest it has been in the last year. It’s anyone’s guess whether this was due to the unusual scheduling of the meeting, a lack of public interest, or the public just agreeing with the priorities of the TDC/CVB as set out in the budget.

The board unanimously approved the FY 2009 budget which begins on October 1st. The budgets were accepted as proposed by staff and no motions were made suggesting any changes. Final approval will now be up to the Bay County Commission which is scheduled to take up the matter on Setember 16th.

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TDC ditches their brains, gets bested by competition

Perhaps this post isn’t necesary, but I feel it prudent to underscore Bryan’s comments and insight into the current actions of the TDC.

An interesting point is brought up, and that point is: why are we just now discussing the budget?

We had all summer with little or almost no activity regarding public TDC meetings.  It seems that there was ample time to discuss these issues and more.  Is there a reason the TDC meetings come virtually to a halt during the summer months?  This is the time we need to be discussing everything and making changes on the fly as needed.

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Comments on the TDC/CVB FY 2009 Budget

As Jason posted, a special meeting of the TDC/CVB board has been called for Tuesday, September 2nd at 9:00 AM. Based on the Agenda and an August 29th letter from President Dan Rowe to the Board, I believe the board will actually vote on the FY 2009 budget on Tuesday rather than just discuss it. It is so amazing that the “New” TDC now appears to be engaging in a budget process that has been basically closed to public knowledge or input. During Tuesday’s meeting, I hope that the board explains the following:

1. Why is the board scheduled to “Consider for Approval” the FY 2009 budget at the same meeting when it is being publicly discussed for the first time? While I understand that the budget needs to be presented to the County Commission for approval by the end of September, I have no idea why the CVB has waited till the last minute to schedule the first and apparently last public meetings on the subject?

2. Why has the special meeting been scheduled on the first business day after the holiday weekend? And why was it announced just one business day before taking place?

Check after the break for more shenanigans!

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Swim with a Red Flag, Get a Ticket

“Do you think a ticket system will help deter people from entering dangerous waters on Panama City Beach?” This was the latest pcbdaily poll trying to determine whether this would be an effective deterrence strategy and help reduce drownings in our warm gulf waters.

There wasn’t exactly a colossal difference between those who voted for the ticket strategy and those who voted against officers being empowered to ticket those ignoring the flag warning system. The poll ended with 55% voting for and 45% voting against.

Continue reading “Swim with a Red Flag, Get a Ticket”

To Swim or Not to Swim? – That is the question.

I can see the justification now – “I’ve come 5 hours to see this beach, and I’m gonna swim whether some flag says I can or not. I paid for this trip, I should be able to swim.” The problem here, you see, is not that the “evil” police or safety patrol wants to spoil your fun, its that THE WATER IS NOT SAFE. This is nobody’s fault. This should be taken with a grain of salt. Whining and complaining about it is just as useful and crying when a baseball game gets rained out.

“The locals all know about the flags and how they work, and many of them swim. Then when the tourists come in, that know little about how it works, they see the locals swimming and figure its ok to get in.” One beach resident and business owner said today.

Do the tourists not know about it, or are they just choosing to ignore it?

Continue reading “To Swim or Not to Swim? – That is the question.”

Red Flag Fines?

An issue currently at debate is whether we should ticket beach goers that ignore warnings and enter the water despite red flag and double red flag conditions.

Walton County has been doing it for years and they don’t seem to have as many drownings as we do. Direct correlation? Hard to say. Does it help? I would think so.

Anything that is going to cost money will deter some people. It will never deter all, but it may help. In addition it could be another source of revenue for our county or city.

Sheriff Frank McKeithen said in a statement emailed the News Herald, printed in today’s paper, that the people that enter the water during dangerous conditions are not only endangering themselves, but endangering the officers, beach workers, or bystanders that may end up having to save them. Obvious point, Sheriff, but very good nonetheless. We need to do what we can to not only keep our tourists safe (despite themselves), but our officers and other locals that risk their lives to save others.

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Panama City Beach is Getting Lifeguards

Well, the Panama City Beach City Council decided that we need lifeguards, but they don’t know how they will pay for it yet.

Mike Hudson, a resident of Panama City Beach, started a beach rescue service – Bay Medical Center EMS Surf Rescue Unit. His team put together a lifeguard program proposal with was the topic of discussion Thursday’s meeting.

After discussion is was decided that they would push through an already approved budget item to hire lifeguards at the City Pier. They also decided that they will put pressure on Bay County for them to follow suit with similar lifeguard placement actions. As part of discussion it was decided that they would update the existing ordinances that require beach service vendors to be lifeguard trained and update equipment that may be more suitable for current lifeguard needs.

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Life Guards on Panama City Beach – everyone else is doing it!

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.

Continue reading “Life Guards on Panama City Beach – everyone else is doing it!”