Wrangell’s Parks and Recreation is struggling to recruit part-time employees, particularly lifeguards. At a recent public hearing, Park’s and Recreation Director Kate Thomas presented her findings on the program’s revenues, goals and challenges. She focused on the aquatics department, which brings in more than half of the departments revenues.
Thomas said the pool is in dire need of more lifeguards to maintain open swims and aquatic classes. Right now, there are four lifeguards. Thomas said there should be 10, and that full-time staff are filling in.
“In order to maintain positive momentum in programming and gain some traction, we need to gain more staff capacity,” Thomas said. “It does not necessarily mean it has to be in the form of permanent full-time staff members, but at least some lifeguards for the short term.”
Thomas said low wages are partially responsible for the lack of lifeguards. They start at minimum wage, $9.80 an hour. Thomas found neighboring communities pay $10.50 to $12.60 an hour to new lifeguards. She said the scheduled hours are inconsistent and the job attracts young adults who have other academic or extracurricular activities.
Thomas would like to raise wages for lifeguards down the road. This would require budget amendments and taking monies from the pool reserve fund or borough general fund. The department’s current budget allocates $70,000 a year for lifeguards and other casual labor.
It recently adopted a progressive pay scale to retain more employees.
“[It] basically says when you work this number of hours you get this amount of money, if you gain this certification you also get a pay increase,” Thomas said. “And so it basically sets a standard so it’s fair for all of the employees, but they also have some incentive to take the head guard training, to gain the swim instructor certification, to work more hours.”
The department’s board also approved changes to the pool’s schedule, such as cutting Friday night hours and increasing Monday and Wednesday hours. These changes should occur by the beginning of next year.