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STONE HARBOR - Stone Harbor has a problem recruiting and retaining lifeguards. The borough council Feb. 18 responded with a significant pay hike for the 2020 season.

A new guard in his/her first year will get daily pay that moves from $100 a year ago to $155 in the coming season.

The new pay scale approved for 2020 maintains that $55 increase across a graduated pay scale based on experience.

A guard with 15 years of experience will move from $128 a year ago to $183 per day in 2020.

Beach tag checkers and office staff will also see an increase in pay. They will move from an existing range of $9.50 to $16 per hour to a 2020 range of $12 to $18.50 per hour.

Beach Patrol Capt. Sandy Bosacco said that the understaffing in 2019 led to days when as many as eight positions had no bodies available. 

“Some stands were unprotected and others had limited experience,” he told council. Under staffing causes many beach communities to restrict swimming in areas that cannot be safely covered.

Bosacco said the Beach Patrol was also forced to hire individuals it might not have in years past when the applicants' pool was large.

Public safety is the priority, forcing the Beach Patrol leadership to find ways to ensure appropriate coverage with less staff.

The problem of staffing life guard positions is a common one in modern shore communities, but Bosacco said it is worse in Stone Harbor than in places like Wildwood Crest.

“The young people who apply for these jobs can afford to rent in the Crest,” he said. “They cannot afford to rent here with what we are paying.”

The South Jersey beaches have never been more popular, but finding enough qualified lifeguards to fill the stands has become more challenging each year.

The cost of living at the shore during the summer is one impediment. Others include competition from restaurants and similar service industry venues where more can be earned with an easier physical regimen.

Competition also comes from the pull of demanding athletic programs or the lure of summer internships as a leg up on a challenging job market.

The result is fewer qualified young adults available for the once-glamorous job as a lifeguard.

The response from the beach communities has been pay increases, flexible schedules, and bonuses for staying to Labor Day and beyond. 

As the summer extends beyond its traditional limits, the challenge of staffing some safe beach areas is added to the mix.

Bosacco says the increases should help for the 2020 season. He predicted other towns will be adjusting as well. They are all competing for a small pool of available guards.

For the borough, “attracting qualified and committed persons to serve as lifeguards” is the priority spelled out in the resolution.

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