Beaufort County will split the $76,000 cost of hiring nine lifeguards to protect beachgoers at Hunting Island State Park this summer.
State government will pay half, plus about $26,000 in costs to equip the guards with safety and first-aid supplies, uniforms and lifeguard chairs, according to county officials.
County Council's Finance Committee approved the cost-sharing deal Tuesday, which is the only approval needed for now.
"It's long overdue," Councilman Rick Caporale said. "We've all read a number of stories about sad events that take place out there with swimmers. It seemed like a logical thing to do."
However, the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has had trouble finding qualified candidates to guard the beach, and a lifeguard won't be on duty there until June, state officials have said.
The county intends to pay for its portion of the lifeguard costs with the accommodations tax levied on overnight lodging, which funds programs that promote tourism and attract visitors, county administrator Gary Kubic said. Such an expenditure requires three votes by council, which could take several more weeks, he said. So to avoid a delay in hiring lifeguards -- which are employed and supervised by the state parks department -- the council will tap its reserves and later formally approve use of accommodations-tax revenues to replenish the reserves and pay lifeguard costs in the future, Caporale said.
Council committees are permitted to spend as much as $100,000 without the approval of the full council.
The state has similar 50-50 style cost-sharing programs with Horry and Georgetown counties to fund lifeguards at Myrtle Beach and Huntington Beach state parks, respectively, Kubic said.
Hilton Head Island attorney Russell Patterson began the effort to put lifeguards at Hunting Island last fall after three people drowned in a single incident off the park's north beach in July. Patterson's family has had a cottage there for 30 years, and he wants lifeguards stationed from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Six drownings have occurred in the past four years at the park, Patterson said. It has not had lifeguards since 1998, in part because it became too difficult to find qualified people to work at the remote park, state officials have said.
The parks department began advertising for lifeguards in April and received seven applications, department spokesman Marion Edmonds has said. Applications are still being accepted for those willing to work a 40-hour week for $9 to $13 an hour. Applicants must be 16 or older, have a valid S.C. driver's license, be Red Cross water-safety and rescue certified, and have current CPR and first-aid training.
"It obviously doesn't guarantee no one will drown, but it sure does make it safer," Patterson said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.