Anna Maria city officials reject beach lifeguard idea

rdymond@bradenton.comJuly 27, 2013 

MANATEE -- For the foreseeable future, there will be no lifeguards to protect swimmers from dangerous rip currents on the numerous pockets of beaches in the City of Anna Maria.

Anna Maria City Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday against making the City of Anna Maria the third location on Anna Maria Island to have lifeguards.

The vote came several weeks after a 14-year-old Polk County youth drowned on a City of Anna Maria beach off Willow Avenue after he was sucked out into the Gulf of Mexico on a rip current, authorities said.

After the drowning, city commissioner Gene Aubry had called for 12 manned lifeguard stands on City of Anna Maria beaches, saying that if the community had advertised itself around the world as a terrific beach location, lifeguards to go with it were a must.

"Sometimes you just have battles you just can't win," Aubry conceded Friday. "If there is no money, what can you do?"

Manatee County's Marine Rescue Division budget is about $652,000 a year, said Nicholas Azzara, a Manatee County spokesman.

The funding pays for 11 lifeguards at a starting base salary of $31,170 plus benefits, and their equipment.

Cost was the biggest reason why the lifeguard proposal did not pass, but right behind it was an unwillingness of city residents to invite even more traffic to Anna Maria, said Commissioner Nancy Yetter.

Yetter said Friday that she received about 20 phone calls

from her constituentsand all but one expressed opposition to lifeguards.

"The 20 were adamantly against lifeguards," Yetter said. "First of all, they knew the city did not have the money. But also, they said they don't want to do anything to increase tourism and that would be an attraction."

Anna Maria has struggled with traffic, parking and litter problems for the past two years and residents are telling their elected officials the cause is so-called "day-trippers," who come to the city for the day to use the beaches.

In fact, at Thursday's meeting, commissioners discussed changes in parking, Yetter said.

Aubry was angry whenhe heard what Yetter'sphone messages contained.

"I am against peoplewho stick their heads in the sand," Aubry said. "Welive on a barrier island and they think tourists won't come? Tourists are coming. Excuse me if I havethis wrong, but isn't tourism our biggest industry inFlorida? We don't makecars here or make airplanes."

Aubry said that the city is considering selling passes to the beach or erecting parking meters.

The drowning of the Polk County boy occurred 2.5 miles from the nearest county-operated beach, where certified lifeguards patrol 365 days a year.

Yetter said commissioners would make sure rip current warning signs would be put up at every Anna Maria city beach.

Manatee County life-guards now only standwatch at Coquina Beach on southern Anna Maria Island and at the Manatee County Public Beach further north in Holmes Beach.

Those public beachescover only a small stretch of the 7-mile island shoreline.

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