Senate version of state budget includes funding for lifeguards at Kua Bay, Hapuna

  • Funding for lifeguards at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, as well as Kua Bay, is in peril. Both beaches are frequents among Top 10 lists, including Dr. Beach and TripAdvisor. Hapuna was ranked No. 7 by Dr. Beach in 2020. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii County Lifeguard Garrett Nicolaisen warns beachgoers in the water at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Full funding for lifeguard services at Kua Bay and Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area has been restored by the state Senate in its draft of the proposed state budget. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

Full funding for lifeguard services at two Big Island state beach parks has been restored by the state Senate in its draft of the proposed state budget.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means amended House Bill 200 by adding $480,000 to fund the contract for lifeguards at Kua Bay and $868,106 to cover the cost of lifeguard services at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

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“It’s not really done yet — but that’s the Senate’s position,” said Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u), who is a member of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “We’re pushing for that funding.”

The Fiscal Biennium Budget 2021-23 bill next heads back to House for a floor vote.

If House members agree with all amendments made — not just to the lifeguard funding — and vote to pass the measure, it will head to Gov. David Ige for his signature. If House legislators disagree with the amendments proposed by the Senate, the bill will head into conference where members from both chambers will try to come to agreement on a final version.

Prior to being heard by Ways and Means on April 1, the state House of Representatives had restored $735,000 of the $1.45 million in general funds for contracting with the counties to provide lifeguard services at five state beach parks on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island that were cut in Gov. David Ige’s proposed Fiscal Biennium Budget 2021-23. The House version had the counties covering the other half.

Funding for the life-saving personnel stationed at Hapuna in South Kohala and Kua Bay in North Kona runs out June 30.

Hawaii County has been flipping the tab for lifeguard services at Hapuna since July 2020 when the state notified the county it could no longer fund the $868,000 contract it paid the county to supply lifeguard services at the state recreation area.

The county opted to pick up the tab to keep the service going, and through the end of 2020 used federal coronavirus relief monies to cover the cost. Effective, Jan. 1, county taxpayers have been footing the bill, and they will continue to do so through the end of this fiscal year.

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The $480,000 contract for lifeguards at Kua Bay is funded by the state through June 30.

Hawaii County officials have previously stated that the state needs to provide full funding for services at its two beach parks on the Big Island. Without full funding, the two sites could see reduced staffing and/or hours, officials said previously. The county did not respond with comment on the inclusion of funding the in Senate’s version of the House Bill 200.

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