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Beaches get more lifeguard protection
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CLEARWATER – In fiscal year 2009-10, with the economy in the doldrums and tax funding waning, Clearwater reduced its Beach Guard Program by about one-third, from 14.5 “full-time equivalents” to just 9.9, thereby reducing the annual cost of the program from $684,000 to $458,300.

Since then, no additional lifeguards have been hired, and the annual cost of the program has increased by just 1.6 percent, to $487,730, mostly due to additional salary and benefits earned by the current lifeguards. But times are changing.

“Tourism to Clearwater and Clearwater Beach has increased significantly during this time,” a staff memo to the Clearwater City Council states. “Clearwater Beach has won numerous awards and designations and (was) recently named Best Beach by USA Today.

“The continued success of Clearwater’s investment in projects like Beach Walk, Pier 60 renovations and Marina District improvements only add to the popularity and volume of people visiting Clearwater Beach”

Accordingly, the Clearwater City Council on Dec. 5 unanimously approved the expansion of the Beach Guard Program by 2.1 FTEs between March 1 and Labor Day, at an annual cost of approximately $79,000. That will extend the amount of time the lifeguards are on duty by two hours per day. The guards will still come on duty at 9:30 a.m., but quitting time will be extended from the current 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

“Extending beach guarding by two hours per day will give residents and visitors to the beach added security and a sense of safety that is not now being provided,” the memo predicts.

Mayor George Cretekos said that perhaps the city could save money by having the lifeguards start a half-hour later, but Kevin Dunbar, the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation, said that his studies had shown that 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. would be the optimum hours, and starting at 10 a.m. would only save about $4,000 a year. Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said that the sight of lifeguards on duty makes Clearwater Beach stand out as a true tourist destination that cares about the safety of its visitors.

City settles suit

CLEARWATER – When Clearwater’s previous fire chief delayed Michael Faulkner’s promotion to fire lieutenant, Faulkner blamed it on age discrimination. He filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and also filed a civil lawsuit against the city. On Dec. 5, the Clearwater City Council approved a settlement of that lawsuit.

“While the city denies that any discrimination took place, a decision was made to settle the litigation for the sum of $37,500,” according to a staff memo to the City Council. “This settlement agreement does not construe any admission of wrongful acts by the city and settles any and all claims Mr. Faulkner may have in this regard.”

Capitol Theatre gets $1 million state grant

CLEARWATER – The city has been awarded a $1 million matching grant from the Division of Cultural Affairs of the Florida Department of State for the purpose of renovating and expanding the historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater. Work on the renovated theatre, which is owned by the city and operated by Ruth Eckerd Hall, is expected to be finished this month.

City Manager, Attorney get pay raises

CLEARWATER – Christmas came early for City Manager Bill Horne and City Attorney Pam Akin. Horne, who now earns $173,972 a year, and Akin, who earns $160,590 a year, were each given a 3.5 percent raise last week, to become effective later this month.

Noting that Akin earns 7 percent less than the average salary of her counterparts in cities of a similar size to Clearwater, and Horne earns 5.5 percent less than his counterparts, four members of the Clearwater City Council were willing to give them even bigger raises. But Mayor George Cretekos said that it is not fair for those at the top of the pay scale to receive percentage raises higher than the 2 percent to 2.5 percent raises given to those on the lower rungs of the salary ladder.

The 3.5 percent raises were a compromise between the two positions. Cretekos voted against them and the other four council members voted for them.
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