Heater’s Pond is feeling the squeeze of the lifeguard shortage.
Ogdensburg Mayor George Hutnick said other Sussex County municipalities are also having problems finding lifeguards. Heater’s Pond in is one of the few lakes in the area that has staff, he said, but it’s not enough to keep the lake open from noon to 6 p.m.
Borough attorney Robert McBriar noted that swimming is permitted only when lifeguards are on duty. A lifeguard is not available from 5 to 6 p.m. daily.
Hutnick said Ogdensburg Recreation Association (ORA) also cannot staff Heater’s Pond on Tuesdays, so the lake will be closed on that day.
The swim team will continue to practice in the swim lanes.
Part of the problem is that the ORA, which runs the swim program, is a private, non-profit organization with limited funds. The ORA is not part of the municipal government.
The council agreed that if a lifeguard is not available from 5 to 6 p.m., residents must be told they may not swim at that time.
Councilwoman Brenda Cowdrick said a sign posted at the lake says swimming is allowed only when a lifeguard is on duty.
Councilman Michael Nardini suggested posting a beach closed sign. Hutnick agreed they must have signs that say the beach is closed.
McBriar said “notice is imperative.”
The three swim team activities are lessons, meets, and practice, McBriar said. He said meets occur when the beach is closed, and the swim team uses the same insurance carrier as the ORA.
Hutnick suggested using the swim team coaches, who are lifeguard-certified.
Liability a sticking point
McBriar said the borough will first review liability issues with George Morville, senior executive vice president at Bollinger Insurance.
Nardini said the ORA does not have the money to pay for insurance and port-a-johns. Insurance alone costs more than a thousand dollars, he said.
Hutnick said that, according to the borough’s risk management and its attorneys, the borough cannot pay for insurance because the ORA is a non-profit organization. The ORA is not being penalized, he said, adding, “Times have changed.”
Councilwoman Rachel Slater said an activity not controlled by the borough cannot be funded by the borough.
Councilman Alfonse DeMeo said the only way the borough can be responsible for swimming costs would be through its own recreation department, staffed by a borough employee and accepting all liability. Sports programs run by public civic organizations are outside of the scope of the budget and liability coverage, he said.
McBriar said the borough does not raise taxes on behalf of non-profit organizations. To control insurance requirements, if the council agreed, the ORA could be run in-house or run through the third-party facilities use form, he said.
Hutnick said the borough may give money to only three organizations — police, fire, and EMS — because their budgets go through the town.
Councilman Anthony Nasisi asked why the ORA budget does not run through the town. Hutnick said the borough tried that in the beginning, but the ORA opted to have its own budget.
McBriar said an Ogdensburg Recreation Department, as part of the borough government, would have a budget, allowing the municipality to run Heater’s Pond events.
Officials also discussed hours of operation, guest badges, costs, and non-residents being part of organizations that use the lake.
McBriar said he will draft an ordinance for further changes to Heater’s Pond that have already been discussed. The current ordinance will go through the change process and be ready for next year’s swim season, he said. He also said the subcommittee is reviewing other parks and recreation amendments.
Nardini said the Department of Public Works completed repairs on the lifeguard shack, which will be painted in the near future.
Chief financial officer Michael Marceau said an old ordinance has about $12,000 already earmarked for further repairs on the lifeguard building. He also reviewed old ordinances that could be canceled to put another $10,000 or $11,000 toward borough projects.
Councilman Nelson Alvarez was absent.