City administration short on budget for extending lifeguard hours

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — More than half a million dollars — that is how much it will cost Honolulu Ocean Safety to keep the sun from setting on its ‘Dawn to Dusk’ program. Budget issues have made staffing difficult.

The program, which would have lifeguards patrol beaches longer than their typical 9:00 am to 5:30 pm shifts, began in July. The program is not being done with lifeguards in stands like intended, but instead with mobile units — including trucks and jet skis — due to budget constraints.

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“Basically, it is a truck that is towing a jet ski, and then it goes up and down the coastline to get to the various stations where the call is made for a response to a certain area — which is very concerning because, as we know for whatever reason, there could be traffic; there’d be any number of situations,” Honolulu City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Heidi Tsuneyoshi said.

The Department of Emergency Services said that Ocean Safety needs to fill 25 open positions over the course of four years — which is why it requested the $561,350 from the Honolulu City Council Wednesday, Oct. 20.

Councilmember Tsuneyoshi said that the city’s administration told the City Council that staffing for the ‘Dawn to Dusk’ was budgeted — but that did not happen.

“I think, yeah you’re right we probably did under budget what we need for water safety,” Department of Budget and Fiscal Services Director Andy Kawano told the Honolulu City Council during Wednesday’s hearing.

Some councilmembers argued there is money available from the American Rescue Plan Act, while others said tough decisions — like cutting the program — should be made.

“We don’t have the resources. If we did, it’d be great,” Honolulu City Council Budget Committee Chair Calvin Say explained. “This committee is chasing 44 million. It’s a black hole right there.”

Currently, Honolulu Ocean Safety is a division under the Emergency Services Department. Councilmember Tsuneyoshi wants Ocean Safety to become its own department so that it can have greater autonomy over the budget.

“What happened today with this budget process for the staffing really highlights the need for them to have their own independent voice, which is why I introduced a resolution for the mayor to create a separate Department of Ocean Safety,” Councilmember Tsuneyoshi added.

She also said there has not been movement on that, so she has introduced a resolution to have that question be on the ballot in the next election.

The administration did not say if the city will have a deficit in next year’s budget. Tommy Waters, Honolulu City Council chair, proposed creating revenue from things like vacancy taxes or vacation rental taxes.

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“I really do believe in ‘Dawn to Dusk,’ I really do believe that it’s essential and I do believe that it will save lives,” Council Chair Waters said.

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