Raglan’s volunteer lifeguards have had abusive phone calls for not being on duty when missing swimmer Cory Edgecombe Lilley got caught in a rip last Thursday.
But Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) warns that there will be fewer patrols in Raglan this summer because it can’t get enough funding from councils.SLSNR acting CEO Matt Williams says it is short $41,000 for operations at Ngarunui Beach and Sunset Beach, in Port Waikato, over the Christmas period after Hamilton City Council withdrew its funding support and the Waikato Regional Council refused a request for more money.
As drowning statistics continue to climb, councils are giving less money to a necessary service, he says. “These are two of our busiest locations … the writing is on the wall.
“Year after year council gives us significantly less than what we ask for although we do more and more.”
Matt says SLSNR, which gets money from sponsorship, gaming grants, community trusts and council funding, this year asked WRC for increased funding totalling $260,000 for its summer patrols but got only $25,000, while HCC completely cut its funding of $38,000. Previously it got $50,000 from HCC.
Patrols at Ngarunui Beach will have to be cut this summer “solely because we can’t get the necessary funds from council”.
“We run a very efficient operation as it is, with no unnecessary patrols, so that means the flags will not be out as much has they have been (in past summers),” Matt says.
“There is a risk involved and that will need to be communicated to the community.
“We have to trim 40 per cent off our service.
“We will talk to council and see if other solutions are available.”
Matt says SLSNR has been lobbying the regional council for years to increase its funding contribution so it didn’t have to go cap in hand to all the other councils in the Waikato region.
The Regional Lifeguard Service that SLSNR provides usually has paid patrols on beaches during the weekdays from early December to early February.
Trust Waikato Raglan Surf Life Saving Club volunteers patrol Ngarunui Beach during the weekends from Labour Weekend to Easter.
Raglan Surf Life Saving Club administrator John Thomas says regional lifeguards will start work at New Zealand beaches from next week but he is unsure whether that will happen in Raglan because of the funding deficit.
He says it is worrying for the club because its volunteers have already received abuse about not being on duty when the Hamilton teenager was swept out to sea last Thursday. Cory’s body has still not been found.
“But we are volunteers, we have other jobs. People don’t understand what the volunteers’ hours are and what the regional guards’ are.”
WRC chairperson Paula Southgate says SLNR’s funding deficit is not the fault of the regional council. “We have continued to fund them the same amount of money.”
She says the idea of creating a regional approach to help fund SLSNR and coastguard operations was agreed upon by the mayors recently at the Waikato Mayoral Forum, but “we have to go through a process” and any details are yet to be determined.