As more of the amenities at Manatee County parks began to reach capacity because of tremendous growth, plans began in 2022 to staff parks with attendants to keep things running smoothly.
Molly White, deputy director of the Sports and Leisure Services Department, said the county’s athletic leagues, park use and programs are at a record high with population growth, new schools being built and a rise in youth sports. The county’s 80 athletic fields are mostly at full capacity.
“We have an obligation to be there for our residents, and having somebody in the park is definitely going to give our residents a quicker response to any issues that we have,” White said. “That might mean a repair or it just gives them the peace of mind that they have somebody who can remedy whatever situation they might run into.”
The program has a first-year budget of $797,753 to fund 13 park attendants, as well as ancillary costs such as phones, radios, uniforms and office materials.
The issue was eventually brought to the attention of county commissioners with a budget amendment approved on Nov. 16 to fund the new staff positions. She said each park attendant will receive $17.05 per hour to start.
Although parks already had a technician, custodial staff, and a team of workers to maintain the property, no one was available to manage the parks full-time, including at night.
“We want to be able to have a customer service-based approach, and if our users or our guests have a problem or a concern, we want to be able to remedy that problem in real time,” she said.
According to a Manatee County press release, attendants have been assigned to the busiest parks beginning Jan. 14. White said in most instances, there will be one attendant per park but that during larger events, schedules will shift for more coverage.
The press release said the attendants, which are distinguished by bright orange shirts, are able to respond to any questions, address any concerns, and assist with issues that include light failures and field setups.
White said these staff members would be able to access breakers for lights. She said in the past, teams would have to call for assistance, and would be delayed by 30-45 minutes before help could be provided if the lights went out.
Additionally, she said the attendants can help with field maintenance due to bad weather.
The press release said attendants will have a general awareness of facilities, with knowledge of irrigation systems as well as shut-offs, and will have the ability to access tools.
White said the attendants will patrol the fields by foot or with carts.
“The expectation is for them to be roaming the park and be mobile,” she said.
Attendants will be equipped with phones so that the county supervisors can reach out to the them. Attendants can also alert first responders in case of an emergency.
Bill Logan, a public information officer with Manatee County, said having attendants present might even discourage vandalism.
“It can be anything from knocking over trash cans to spray paint — simple things that do disrupt the beauty of the facility, that need attention," White said about possible vandalism. "We do take it personally. We do care about the facilities.”
White said when vandalism does occur, the park attendant will be able to notify the maintenance team so they can remedy the issue.
She said the park attendant will also be able to fix smaller issues due to the increase in users, such as empty and overflowing trash cans, or bathrooms that need attention.
She believes that overall it will change the experience that users enjoy in the parks.
“It has such a positive impact for all of our residents, all of our league users, all of the people from out of town who may not know where our field is; they have a direct person to contact when they’re in the athletic field and in the parks, to get the answers that they’re looking for.”
The county press release said a campaign was also underway to encourage patrons to use the county’s 311 system to submit concerns about amenities, which will be relayed to the park attendants.