County finds money for lifeguards at Klineline

Commissioners agree to siphon from fund voters designated to build parks

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Lifeguards will return this summer to Klineline Pond in Salmon Creek Regional Park.

After two weeks of debate, commissioners appeared to all come to the same conclusion: It’s worth the cost to potentially save a life.

The county will now begin hiring 10 lifeguards to work the pond between July 1 and Labor Day of this year.

The cost is expected to run about $120,000 per year and will be paid by the county’s metropolitan park district, which is expect to see increased revenues after county Assessor Peter Van Nortwick announced last week that assessed property values are on the rise.

It was Republican Commissioner David Madore who first made the point at a May 15 board meeting that lifeguards should be restored, saying it was critical to find a way to staff the popular swimming hole.

“It’s the most proactive thing we can do to protect life,” Madore said.

Since 2010, the pond has gone without any lifeguards on duty. And the topic of whether that should change has been very lightly discussed without much movement.

Republican Commissioner Tom Mielke and Democratic Commissioner Steve Stuart originally rebuffed Madore’s plea to reconsider lifeguards. The main reason cited by both commissioners was that there is simply no money in the county coffers to offer the service.

The general fund was tapped out, they argued. And the metropolitan park district was intended to build parks that have yet to be completed.

But one week later, it appeared both men determined that was not a good enough excuse.

At the May 22 board time meeting, Stuart said that while Madore had been persuasive, it was his own son who had made him change his mind.

“As moving as you are, commissioner, it was actually a 15-month-old kid at my house that convinced me that we have to do something,” Stuart said via telephone. “Because looking at him, if one kid drowned at Klineline, I’d never be able to forgive myself if I could have prevented it.”

The most recent death at Klineline occurred just last August, when a 13-year-old boy was pulled from the water and later declared deceased the hospital.

Once Stuart finished saying he wanted to take another look at it, Mielke told him that the commissioners appeared to all be on the same page.

“The good news is, Steve, everybody’s been working on it,” Mielke said. “We found another avenue, and I met with Pete Capell the other day and we were doing the same thing.”

Capell, the county’s public works director, said the expectation is that the county will see enough of a boost in revenues through the metropolitan park district to pay for lifeguards while still planning to build new parks.

After discussion on the logistics, and saying they would carefully monitor the money going forward, all three commissioners voted to direct the staff to begin the hiring process.

The park district, authorized by voters in 2005, allows a property tax with a maximum rate of 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to build and maintain parks. The ballot measure promised 35 new parks, of which nine have not been built.

Capell said the plan still remains to finish those parks under the current, improved revenue expectations.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.