If lifeguards begin patrolling beaches in unincorporated Bay County, it won't be this year.
County commissioners have concluded there isn't enough time to recruit and train qualified lifeguards by the end of the summer tourist season. The board will, however, consider whether to post lifeguards at Rick Seltzer Park and the M. B. Miller Pier in 2014.
At Tuesday's meeting, Assistant County Manager Dan Shaw told commissioners the 2013 deadline has passed because it will take about six weeks to hire and train "open water certified" lifeguards.
Shaw outlined two possible approaches should commissioners move forward next year. One would be to contract with the City of Panama City Beach for training and management of the program, through its Aquatic Center, at a cost of about $130,000 per season. In the second scenario, vendors that contract with the county to do business on the sandy beach would be required to provide trained lifeguards.
Commissioner Guy Tunnell again called on the Tourist Development Council to fund lifeguards, as is done in Okaloosa and Walton counties. But Terrell Arline, County Attorney, said the use of bed tax revenue for lifeguards is facing legal challenges in those counties and advised commissioners to await rulings in those cases.
Commissioner Mike Thomas said tax revenue can only be used to promote the beach. "I don't oppose having lifeguards... the funding mechanisms that we're looking at and pushing is what I'm opposed to," Thomas said. "It should be funded by the people that use it [and] I don't think we ought to tax everybody."
Tunnell said he's willing to wait on resolution of the Okaloosa and Walton challenges, but wants TDC funding to be the first option considered. "I think it's something that we legitimately should look at and provide if we can," Tunnell said. "I'm not saying [we should] increase taxes for that purpose."
Commissioners directed county staff to investigate all funding options and report back at next month's board meeting.
In other business, commissioners took a step toward preventing so-called "pop up" clubs from popping up in unincorporated areas. Commissioners are concerned that temporary businesses capitalize on large crowds while permanent residents end up paying the price.
The commission considered whether to establish a residential setback requirement for businesses that sell beer and wine for on-premise consumption. The law already mandates a 1,000 foot buffer if liquor is served. The proposed ordinance would not apply to restaurants where the sale of alcoholic beverages is incidental to food sales.
If passed, the ordinance would govern all unincorporated areas of the county, but the beach is the focal point. Commissioners want to make sure county laws are in step with ordinances already in place within the City of Panama City Beach. They also want to put an end to clubs that suddenly appear during spring break and disappear along with the crowds.
"People come in and want to rent a building for six weeks [and] put beer and wine and music in there and in the middle of a neighborhood have basically a night club," Thomas said. "This is trying to cut out the problems that it causes inside those neighborhoods."
The proposal drew no comments during Tuesday's public hearing and commissioners approved the first reading by unanimous vote. The board will consider final passage at its July 16 meeting.