MICHIGAN CITY — Anyone who’s been to Washington Park beach this summer realizes there are no lifeguards on duty, a problem city officials have blamed on a lack of qualified applicants.

Not so obvious is a similar problem in the Michigan City Street Department, which is suffering a shortage of drivers and operators.

In response, Mayor Duane Parry on Friday signed two executive orders raising the pay level for those positions to address what he called a “critical” lack of qualified applicants.

Parry, in a statement from City Hall, said both orders “address critical shortages of employees in both the Park Department and Street Department.

“More specifically, there is a pressing need to have qualified lifeguards at our lakefront and qualified CDL operators and drivers in our Street Department.”

The lifeguard problem became a hot topic last month when two people drowned and a third nearly drowned between June 13-19.

At a special meeting of the Michigan City Common Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, called in June to address the matter, Parks Department Supt. Ed Shinn said the lifeguard shortage is a national issue.

He said only four of the 20 people who applied for Washington Park lifeguard positions this year were qualified to guard open water.

“Having a shortage like that made it difficult for us to maintain a team of lifeguards, which is normally in the numbers of 14-17,” he said. “… [It] takes six lifeguards to complete a rescue. Having only four creates a problem.”

In his order, the mayor said, in spite of an earlier pay raise, the city has “suffered a lack of qualified applicants” and has had to “amend internal protocols” and “request the assistance of the Michigan City Fire Department in monitoring our lakefront.”

And of the few qualified lifeguards that were hired, the majority will be leaving at the end of July to return to college, Parry said.

The mayor said the city “must hire and train as soon as possible.” As a result, he has increased the hourly rate of pay for these positions.

Lifeguards currently make about $17.65 per hour after the City Council approved a $5-per-hour raise prior to the season.

Effective Sunday, July 11, the following pay rates take effect:

• Seasonal lifeguard – $25 per hour
• Seasonal assistant head lifeguard – $26 per hour
• Seasonal head lifeguard – $27 per hour

“Thus far this summer,” Parry said, “the Park Department has had record numbers of residents and guests at our lakefront, at least three drowning [incidents] have occurred in the waters adjacent to Washington Park ... resulting in severe bodily injury to one individuals and the death of two...”

For the Street Department, drivers would earn $19 per hour, up from $16.03; and operators would earn $21 per hour, up from $17.82.

Parry said in his order that the department “has experienced significant turnover with majority of drivers and operators ... leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere.”

While the shortage is not quite as noticeable in the summer, he said the department is “already planning and preparing for fall leaf pick-up and snow removal,” and drivers and operators are essential for the “health and safety of the city and its residents.”

Parry said after consulting with the City Controller, “sufficient funds exist in the budget to fund the increases due to the shortage of employees in these positions” because both departments have been understaffed this year.

He will be also be “proposing a substantial increase in wages for all city employees” in the 2022 budget, he said.

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