Source: Sherman Publications

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Greenís Park Lifeguards on chopping block

by Gabriel L. Ouzounian

March 14, 2012

The economy has claimed another service provided by Lake Orion's downtown and this one may prevent fun times at the beach.

For the first time in at least 30 years, the Lake Orion Village Council decided, at a March 8 budget meeting, to proceed with their budget without accounting for lifeguards at Green's Park, located on S. Park Blvd near downtown. While this does not mean the lifeguards are gone for sure, Councilman Mike Toth said it basically means the safety guards are not accounted for in the budget.

"We basically needed to do this and last year we got pretty close," said Toth. "We need to save money and I think this is going to work. It's been a long process that started back when Rob Reetz was Council President - around three or four years ago and I think it happened this year because of the lack of the old board members. We were able to talk about it rationally and this is the result.

The lifeguards cost the village $20,000 total annually and last year they elected to charge for admittance to Green's Park - a decision that sparked controversy. With the charge in place, the services could be provided for $6,000, but Toth said that's $6,000 dollars the council will now save. In addition, Toth believes the park will likely go back to free admittance.

"I think it actually increases government services," said Toth. "It will allow us to make use of the park more often. Other parks in Michigan have actually raised fees and we managed to do the opposite and still save money."

But some remain worried about safety at the park. Lake Orion High School Track Coach and 31 year Lifeguard Stan Ford said he was disappointed with the decision, adding he could not remember a time when there were no lifeguards at the recreational area.

"I'm concerned about the liability," said Ford. "In their minds I'm sure they're thinking they can put up notifications and signs, but a sign has never pulled anyone out of the water. There's no kind of reinforcement out there and when no one's there what's going to happen? I hope I'm wrong - I hope nothing bad happens, but I really struggle with the issues, and the liability.

"You cannot tell me it is not important to have lifeguards when you have open water."

In relation to the safety concerns, Toth said most responsibility will fall to the parents. Also a parent, Toth said without lifeguards safety might actually get better as the guardian to swimmer ratio increases.

"I think parents are responsible, and there will be no risk increase," he said. "If there is one parent for every two kids and there are eight kids, then that's four people watching the area as opposed to two lifeguards before. The parents didn't pay attention before.

"If I thought the risk was significantly increased, I would not vote for this - $6,000 is not worth increased risk."

Ford remained resolute though and added a concern about more than just safety.

"There's a faction out there that does not think it's necessary to have these authorities, but what happens when people find out there are no lifeguards?" he said. "When kids find out what's going to happen? When adults bring alcohol because there's no one there to say 'no' what's going to happen? I have all this training and they deem it not necessary.

"It's really disappointing."