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Five county beaches lose lifeguards

WILLMAR -- Swimming beaches at five of Kandiyohi County's seven parks will be without lifeguards this summer, the result of a budget-cutting move approved Tuesday by the County Board of Commissioners.

The move is expected to save $12,000 to $15,000 a year, county officials said.

The parks that will be losing lifeguards are Parks 1 and 2 on Big Kandiyohi Lake, Park 3 on Diamond Lake, Park 5 on the northeast side of Green Lake, and Park 6 in New London.

Lifeguard service will remain intact at the county park system's two busiest beaches -- Saulsbury Beach at Park 4 in Spicer and Park 7 on Games Lake.

"We believe it's essential to keep those lifeguards on just because of the traffic," said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

County officials said that if cuts are to be made in lifeguard services to save money, this year offers the best opportunity to do so.

Of the 28 lifeguards who worked for the county last summer, 10 are not returning this year, said Randy Kveene, chief deputy with the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office.

"We're having a turnover year here," he said.

Because of seniority and how hours are assigned, the county would have had to hire eight lifeguards to replace the ones who are leaving, Kveene said.

Last year the county spent $49,000 on lifeguards.

The commissioners supported the reduction. "I think it's a good time to do it," said Dennis Peterson, chairman of the County Board.

But at the same time, they also expressed concern for public safety.

The lifeguard service "is one of those things that is an amenity to those parks," said Richard Falk.

As the economy and the county's budget become increasingly constrained, the commissioners likely will face many similar trade-offs in the months ahead, Kleindl said.

"We want to keep public safety in mind, but I imagine in the next two years we're going to have to make more decisions like this," he said.