Panama City Beach City leaders host beach safety workshop

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Panama City Beach leaders, the Tourist Development Council, and Bay County officials are working together on a plan to beef up the lifeguard and beach safety program.

Panama City Beach Leaders,Tourist Development Council and Bay County officials, are working on a plan to beef up the lifeguard and beach safety program. (WJHG/WECP)

The current lifeguard program and Beach and Surf Patrol will combine under Panama City Beach Fire Rescue in October to become a new program. Now, the TDC, county, and city officials are making plans for that program's future.

During a worship meeting Tuesday, officials and locals talked about adding flotation devices, signs warning people about the beach flag system and other improvements to make the beach safer.

Panama City Beach officials say they averaged around 70 service calls per day at the beach this summer. City and Bay County officials say there were around a dozen drownings during that time with 30 percent of those being rescuers.

"We're just looking at alternative ways to fund the lifeguards," said Panama City Beach Councilman Paul Castro.

Locals and officials from other areas such as the South Walton County shared their ideas at Tuesday's meeting to help the program improve, including pushing state lawmakers to raise the tourist development tax.

"Trying to add another penny on the bed tax. That would generate $4 million which we could really do a first-class lifeguard program with that," said Castro.

TDC officials say changing the state law is easier said than done.

"Just having a sixth penny doesn't mean we'll be able to use that penny for lifeguards, because there are very specific provisions as to what is allowable by the state legislature," said TDC Executive Director Dan Rowe.

Officials also made suggestions to help enforce Bay County and Panama City Beach Double Red Flag Laws.

"We'll revisit how we're trying to educate the public and step that up more and make it a little more pronounced in your face," said Bay County Commission Chairman Philip "Griff" Griffitts. "The Sheriff heard from the public that they want him to do more enforcement. If people are acting foolish and they're not listening to the warnings arrest them."

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