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Debate on beach lifeguards continues at Detroit Lakes City Council

When the topics of cutting warming house staff and cutting lifeguards at the city beach came before the Detroit Lakes City Council for the second month, there were still no decisions made Tuesday evening.

The council -- which was short three aldermen and the mayor, due mainly to illnesses -- decided to discuss the staffing of warming houses this fall during the 2010 budget talks, since the rinks are closed for the season already.

As for the lifeguards, during an earlier finance committee meeting, the group had decided to nix the lifeguards, but then the council tabled the issue at their regular meeting.

During the finance committee meeting, City Administrator Bob Louiseau said he had talked to Mayor Matt Brenk -- who was one of those gone due to illness -- and he said the feedback Brenk had received from people was that lifeguards on the beach is "something special that distinguishes our beach from other beaches in the area."

Louiseau added that according to Community Education and Recreation Director Mark Greenig, there needs to be a minimum of four lifeguards hired for a 10-week period of seven days a week, 1-6 p.m., at cost of about $20,000 total.

Those present at the finance committee meeting said it wouldn't be likely for four people to be able to cover the task of lifeguarding the beach all summer.

"Lifeguarding a beach is substantially more difficult than lifeguarding at a pool," Louiseau said.

Alderman Leonard Heltemes said his concern was that when the city says there's going to be lifeguards on the beach and then they don't show up for duty, that's more of a liability.

"You hit on my concern," Alderman Bruce Imholte said. "It's not about money, it's safety."

He added that there is a mile-long beach without lifeguards, and families still come to spend time at the beach.

The other option discussed was contracting with the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center to put lifeguards on the beach. Louiseau said when he talked to DLCCC personnel though, they were "not excited, but I wouldn't say it's totally off the table."

Imholte agreed that would be the best option, but that the city would still have to come up with the money to pay the DLCCC lifeguards, which would not solve the budget crisis.

Louiseau said if the council decides not to cut the lifeguards, it will have to make cuts somewhere else in the budget to balance it out.

At the council meeting later, Imholte made a motion to eliminate lifeguards.

"It's a tough decision for the council. To do it right, we don't have the money or the staff. It's the best thing to do at this time."

Alderman Jamie Marks Erickson said she'd like to table the issue another month to discuss more options with the DLCCC, get donations or find another avenue of funding to still have lifeguards.

"They're not fired up to do it, but for a fee, I suppose they might," Finance Officer Lou Guzek said of the DLCCC, adding that there would be logistics to work out.

The issue was tabled on a 3-2 vote until next month's meeting.

Also at the council meeting, aldermen tabled a vote on the first reading of an ordinance on amendments to the nuisance ordinance relating to unfinished buildings.

Heltemes asked that the ordinance stay at six months of no construction before enforcement, while Imholte asked that it be changed to one year, given people leave the area for months at a time during the winter.

Alderman Ron Zeman said he had made some calls to contractors, and they said six months was substantial.

"They thought we were being more than generous with our time," he said.

Louiseau pointed out that with the six months, the council will then have to approve 180-day extensions like those given for building permits. Currently, City Inspector Cal Mayfield Jr. has the authority to give the 180-day extension, "which we do fairly frequently," Louiseau said. With the six-month ordinance, the possibility of an extension would need to be approved by council.

Imholte asked that the matter be tabled so committee members can get some clarification.

Also at the meeting, the council voted to approve:

- Two hour parking limits on the east and west sides of Lake Avenue from Frazee Street to Holmes Street, and the north and south sides of Holmes Street from Lake Avenue to Washington Avenue.

- Not going forward on the street and utility improvements for State Street from Summit Avenue to Oak Grove Avenue.

- Entering into an agreement with the DLCCC to run the summer recreation program, which will still be free to participants and in the same location, just administered through the community center, for 10 weeks at a cost of $45,000.