Swimming area to remain unguarded

County again lacks the money to staff Klineline Pond

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In December, Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation Department announced that its 2010-2011 operating budget would return lifeguards and turn on the “spray ground” feature at Klineline Pond.

It might have spoken too soon.

As falling real estate values cut into tax levies that support park maintenance, parks officials say the deal is off.

“What I’m trying to do is keep from closing parks,” said Pete Capell, director of Clark County Public Works. “My first priority is to do everything I can to keep parks open.”

The county incorporated maintenance for Salmon Creek Regional Park/Klineline Pond and others into the Metro Parks District taxing district late in 2009 to ease pressure on a general fund that had just absorbed $1.6 million in cuts.

The district’s tax rate is capped at 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and home values are expected to continue falling. And as a junior taxing district, the parks district could be the first in the state to face further cuts.

Brian Potter, parks resource program supervisor, said it cost about $71,000 between late June and Labor Day weekend 2009 — approximately 71 days — to employ five to six lifeguards to watch the pond, test for E. coli and track chlorine levels in the spray ground eight hours a day. The Public Works general fund provided that money.

Jilayne Jordan, spokeswoman for the parks district, said Klineline Pond was the only county-owned outdoor swim area with lifeguards. Lewisville Park, the most-visited in the county, has never had lifeguards. Capell said his department is still exploring partial funding and volunteer arrangements, but providing basic maintenance is his top priority.

Potter said he wouldn’t want to hire lifeguards for shifts less than six hours a day. It would cost $22,000 just to keep the spray ground open with someone to monitor chlorine levels and be available to perform CPR.

Basic maintenance at Salmon Creek Regional Park won’t be affected by the funding changes, but the park collected more user fees in 2009, when the park had lifeguards and the spray ground, said Bill Bjerke, the county’s grounds maintenance supervisor.

Until housing prices increase, people will have to keep track of each other on the water.