Sioux Falls raises wages to find more parks and pool workers

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Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 7:11 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Two years ago, the pandemic forced the closure of all of Sioux Falls’ seven city-owned pools. In 2021, three remained unopened because of staff shortages.

But more than two months before the slated opening day on June 3, officials said all the pools will be open this summer, because all 77 full-time lifeguard positions have been filled.

The main reasons are not difficult to pinpoint.

”Last year, we were still in pandemic mode a bit, but we drastically increased the wages this year from what they were last year,” said city parks manager Kelby Mieras.

Last summer, starting lifeguard pay was $10.50 per hour. The severe shortage of takers forced the closure of the pools at McKennan Park, Kuehn Park, and Frank Olson Park.

Once the city boosted lifeguard wages to $14 per hour, it received enough applicants and made enough hires to open Kuehn Park’s pool in Mid-July.

The number bumped to $16 an hour for this summer. And, poof, the 77 full-time lifeguard positions were hired to open every pool.

But the city’s interim manager of Parks & Rec said she is “looking for as many that will still come forward” to take part-time posts.

“We know a lot of folks don’t want to work full-time,” Jackie Nelson said. “So, we would love to have on the upwards side of 200 lifeguards so that all our pools can be staffed safely and that people get the time off that they need, and that we can really offer that flexible schedule our team members want.”

On Monday, the city held walk-in interviews for prospective lifeguards, head lifeguards, and pool managers at the Midco Aquatics Center today and tomorrow.

With higher wages, pool and park managers have been easier to find, as well.

Mieras said Parks and Rec operations needs about 250 workers to be fully-staffed, and he has 200 at the moment, which equals the peak number of last year.

The toughest spots to fill, he said, have been pool and park maintenance workers, for obvious reasons. Those gigs are more labor intensive than lifeguard work and pool managing, and the minimum age to apply is 18, meaning the (figurative) pool of candidates is smaller than for lifeguards.

Starting wages for maintenance workers have spiked to $17/hour, and Mieras offered this pitch to potential employees about the job’s benefits.

“One of the things they really get out of the position is a sense of pride,” Mieras said. “They get to turn around at the end of the day and see what they’ve accomplished. They see people recreating, swimming in the pools, playing in softball tournaments, just enjoying the fruits of their efforts.”

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