The council agrees to increase beach patrol coverage between March 1 and Labor Day, beginning next year, because of an influx of tourists.
CLEARWATER — The city council consented during a workshop on Monday to increase lifeguard coverage on public beaches during the peak tourism season starting next year.
The decision, which goes for final approval during tonight’s regular council meeting, would allow an additional 2.1 Full Time Equivalent (FTEs) of Beach Patrol coverage from March 1 through Labor Day, prompted by an increase in tourists over the past few years, according to city officials.
“As the council knows, tourism is up significantly at the beach,” Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar said. “That has necessitated us taking a look at our hours of operation. Approval of this item would have us, during the months of March 1 until Labor Day, cover the beach from 9:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.”
In 2009, the city reduced funding to the Clearwater Beach Patrol program by 33 percent, from 14.5 FTEs to 9.9, representing a decrease in cost from $684,000 to $458,000. That decision put patrols on the beach from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. year-round.
While funding has gone up modestly over the past four years, up 1.6 percent to $487,000, staffing levels haven’t increased, but tourism has.
In addition to new attractions like Beach Walk and improvements to areas such as Pier 60, USA Today recently designated Clearwater Beach as the best beach in Florida. As a result, the influx of visitors made city officials rethink staffing at the five lifeguard towers.
“Traditionally, the peak hours have been from 9:30 to 4:30,” Dunbar said in an interview. “But we observed over the last two years that at 4:30, the peak hasn’t stopped.
“We’re victims of our own success. But this provides us with the additional coverage we need.”
The increase in funding, about $79,000 per year, will be covered by the parking fund.
“I support this,” Councilman Paul Gibson said. “I would suggest that while they’re staying longer, they keep plugging their meters to help pay for these people.”