Bay County Commissioners Shut Down Lifeguard Proposal

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PANAMA CITY BEACH - After months of sometimes heated debate, Bay County commissioners have decided against getting into the lifeguard business. It was a close vote, 3 to 2.

Ironically, at the same time commissioners were talking about lifeguards, a surfer rescued a swimmer in distress right around the M.B. County Pier area.

One of the big deal breakers for some commissioners was that they'd have to spend taxpayer money under the agreement with Coastal Parasail.

Locals and tourists expecting lifeguards to protect them from strong rip current at the M.B. County Pier and Rick Seltzer Park will have to continue fending for themselves.

After months of discussions, Bay County commissioners voted against a lifeguard proposal Tuesday. Commission Chairman Guy Tunnell championed the issue.

"I'm not going to give up, but it's not like I'm going to take my toys and go home. I still feel it's a very important issue and that it's a matter of time before it negatively impacts us from an economic stand point," said Tunnell.

The plan would have put a lifeguard at each end of the M.B. County Pier. Commissioners were about to negotiate a contract with Coastal Parasail, waiving Coastal Parasail's $30,000 vendor fees in exchange for the lifeguards.

The company would use the old Bay County Sheriffs Office sub station at the county pier, but the plan never got off the ground when commissioners learned they would not break even on the deal.

"I don't have a great amount of people telling me they want me to raise their taxes to do this. How much public safety can we afford and that's my problem," said Mike Thomas, a Bay County commissioner.

Now commissioners will have to return to the drawing board.

"Bay County leads the state and is a leader in the country in rip tide deaths due to drownings on our beaches, I think that sends a pretty loud message," said Tunnell.

"When people put their self in peril in some of these water conditions, you can't create a utopia where everybody lives," said Thomas.

Tunnell was citing the National Weather Service, which says 47 people died in local rip currents from 2000 to 2013.

Commissioners also considered talking with state agencies to provide lifeguards at Rick Seltzer Park, but that also fell through Tuesday morning.