Last week’s column left off with the reorganization of the beach patrol in 1981, at which time it began to be funded by the hotel tax revenues that were funneled through the Park Board of Trustees and the management was moved to the sheriff’s office.
From 1983 to 2007, Vic Maceo ran the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. During these years, we initiated a formal lifeguard academy that eventually included 1,000 hours of initial training, adopted United States Lifesaving Association minimum standards, formalized a chain of command system, initiated surf condition flags, began running staggered shifts and created a unique dispatch and stats system that was specific to lifeguard operations.
Many of these changes were initiated first in Galveston and are now used throughout the United States.
In 2007, Maceo retired, passing the torch to me. Shortly after that, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol fell solely under the management of the Park Board of Trustees.
Today, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol is an elite certified Advanced Agency by the USLA, which protects more than 7 million beach visitors annually and is the official lifeguard service for the city of Galveston.
It’s recognized as one the most professional and proactive lifeguard agencies in the United States. We cover 33 miles of beach, staff 32 towers, respond to over 70 miles of waterfront emergencies and are on call 24/7/365. We are a certified first-responder organization that is an “advanced” level agency with the USLA. We’ve grown with the increase in tourism, expanded beaches and use and growth from our primary funding source of hotel tax dollars.
We now have a very large Junior Lifeguard Program, an in-house police department, several volunteer force multiplier programs including “Wave Watchers” and the Jesse Tree Survivor Support Network, and we do enormous amounts of water safety educational outreach each year. Last year, we provided more than 30,000 school children with water safety training talks. At full strength, we have 14 full-time employees and 125 seasonal positions.
The revenue we use to support our service has varied through the years. In 1981, we operated off 1 penny of the hotel tax revenues. In 1993, to address the first large beach nourishment project on the seawall, the park board and city proactively secured 1.5 hotel occupancy tax pennies before the season started, so we could meet the increased demand. In 2005, our budget was reduced by 33 pennies to help fund the Galveston Island Convention Center, resulting in the need to supplement our budget from the beach parks (until 2018, we operated off of 75 percent hotel tax revenues and 25 percent beach-user fees).
Currently, we operate off 1.1667 pennies (.5 cents of city hotel tax and .67 state reimbursement). In 2018, we lost the ability to receive moneys from beach park transfers, so lifeguard operations are funded exclusively from hotel tax dollars, which caused us to take a major hit with COVID-19- related reductions in hotel moneys.