MICHIGAN CITY — City workers are in for big pay raises if Mayor Duane Parry and City Council President Michael Mack get their way.
Parry announced raises effective this week for lifeguards and street department drivers and operators to address employee shortages.
Faced with an inability to hire enough lifeguards for Washington Park again this summer, Parry raised wages to $25 an hour for lifeguards, $26 hourly for assistant head lifeguards and $27 an hour for the head lifeguard.
“We’ve already gotten many inquiries about it. It’s a game-changer,” he said Monday. “We’re trying to get through with no more drownings.”
“We can’t keep them out of the water, so our goal is to assemble a team that is observing and responding within 90 seconds,” Parry said.
Improving beach safety also includes looking at technological solutions, including drones and emergency response personal watercraft, he said. The watercraft are bigger than a standard Jet Ski, capable of carrying two rescuers and with a hard apron that trails off the back end to carry a person who ran into trouble in the water.
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In addition, street department drivers now earn $19 hourly and street department operators earn $21 per hour. Those raises come after the Indiana Department of Transportation raised its wages recently to attract more job applicants. Michigan City’s wages were lower than the rest of the Region, so the city has been losing drivers.
Drivers and operators require a commercial driver’s license.
“We’ve got to be competitive,” Mack, D-3rd, said. “If we have an expectation of high performance, we’ve got to meet it.”
Earlier this year, the council approved increasing the hourly wage for lifeguards to $16 to be competitive with other Indiana beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline, but the city still failed to get enough lifeguards.
Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Rescue Project, commended the council in February for considering higher wages for lifeguards. “There’s a lot of competition for it and raising the wage will be a prime way of attracting more people,” he said.
He recommended a recruiting effort, reaching out to swim teams and water polo teams. Park Superintendent Ed Shinn has said he has a program in the works for subsequent years.
The pay raises fit in with Mack’s political philosophy. “I’m a $15-an-hour minimum wage type of guy,” he said. Various council members have said over the past year that some workers aren’t making enough money for their responsibilities.
“There’s more ultimately coming down the pike,” Mack added.
Parry said he will propose “a substantial increase” in wages for all city employees in the 2022 budget.
Park Department revenues tanked last year during the pandemic but are now recovering.
Blue Chip Casino is now back to regularly paying its normal cash disbursements to the city as well.
“We’re not wealthy. I don’t want anybody to think that,” Parry said. The city should have enough money for raises, though, he said.