Raglan lifeguards in fund fight

6th Dec 2015

Lifeguards are worried a lack of funding could put swimmers at risk, with a busy surf lifesaving club forced to cut their patrols in half, just as they face abuse for not being on duty when a swimmer went missing last week.

The cuts affect clubs in the northern region but so far, only clubs in the Waikato have had to cut this summer season patrols. Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) chief executive Matt Williams said they were short of $41,000 to operate Ngarunui and Sunset Beaches. He said Hamilton City Council withdrew its funding and Waikato Regional Council (WRC) refused to give more money. Williams said so far in 2015 there have been 19 beach drownings across the country, of which 13 were in the Northern Region. This compares to 14 beach drownings for the entire country in 2014.

"The problem is increasing in the Northern Region and we want to do more about it. With summer kicking off again we are already seeing problems with two beach drownings in Northland and the Waikato regions in the last couple of weeks. We fear 2016 could be even worse than 2015."

Williams told the Raglan Chronicle that it was getting harder to provide the expected service. "As drowning statistics continue to climb, councils are giving less money to a necessary service. These are two of our busiest locations. "Year after year council gives us significantly less than what we ask for although we do more and more."


Raglan Surf Lifesaving Club, who have guards at Ngarunui Beach (Main Beach), will start their weekday patrols on December 21 until January 22. Patrols were due to start on December 7 and have in the past run from early December to early February.

The announcement of funding cuts comes days after a Hamilton teen went missing when he got into difficulty while swimming at Ngarunui Beach. Cory Edgecombe Lilley, 17, was swimming with friends about 4pm on Thursday, November 26 when he became caught in a rip and pulled out to sea during low tide. Lifeguards say the teen was last seen in a notorious, permanent rip are about 200 metres out from the lifeguard tower. Lilley's body has still not been found.

Raglan Surf Life Saving Club administrator John Thomas said volunteers had been abused for not being on duty when Lilley went missing. Weekday patrols had yet to start for the season but he worries about what the cuts will mean for lifeguards and their interactions with the public. He said people don't understand that volunteers have other jobs and don't understand the hours of operation volunteers and lifeguards have to work. A post on the club's Facebook page said they had been working with police to conduct searches.

"To date the club alone has put in approximately 250 man-hours of searching using two beach vehicles, up to three inflatable rescue boats and lots of scanning with binoculars. "Normal beach activities will slowly resume at Ngarunui Beach as time goes on, but we are really hoping some closure can be had by the family and friends of the young man."

Williams acknowledged councils had a difficult task but Surf Life Saving had banked on increasing support from regional council for $260,000, but only received $25,000.

However, Waikato regional council chairperson Paula Southgate said it was unfair to blame the council. "We were asked to look at a funding model for them that was regional for the last annual plan. Unfortunately their formal request came out after the annual plan was put up for public consideration," she said.

"That's a massive amount of money and we need to negotiate what the funding is for and what we should be funding and what local government should be putting in. "We have continued to fund them the same amount of money." Southgate said there would be further talks with SLSNR and other councils about a regional funding plan. "We indicated that we were happy to see whether the most sensible and efficient way to collect the rate on behalf of all ratepayers, would be to collect it in one place. "This makes sense to me because they would be able to come to one organisation every year with certainty about funding, however that will be a process."

Further north, Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service president Tim Jago said Muriwai Beach was not affected. "We're one of ten clubs to be funded by the Auckland Council, so in terms of funding everything is as planned," he said. Piha Surf Life Saving Club president Peter Brown said he was unaware of the funding cuts and unsure if they would be affected. Williams said they run a tight operation and hopes to speak with other councils to find a solution. There is a risk involved and that needs to be communicated, he said.

For a further report on Raglan's frustration with funding cuts, be sure to catch Seven Sharp at 7.00 pm on December 8th for a in depth story: 


Source : stuff.co.nz

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