More than 170 people packed the Ocean Ridge Town Hall during a four-hour
public hearing where Palm Beach County Sheriff’s officials and Ocean Ridge
Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi outlined their staffing plans for police coverage.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Steve Plunkett
A sheriff’s presentation on the benefits of going green quickly turned into a love fest for keeping the town’s police department.
“I would rather pay a little bit more and have the kind of service we have today,” resident Dave Gury said at the standing-room-only workshop May 8 at Town Hall.
“It’s just not financial. It’s quality-of-life for people like me … who can call the office and speak to a dispatcher immediately,” added resident Stella Kolb.
“If the money is an issue, it’s not an issue with me,” resident Justus Brown said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office says it would provide full police services to Ocean Ridge for $1.15 million the first year, which Town Manager Ken Schenck said would be a $544,000 savings.
“It’s almost buy two years, get one free,” sheriff’s Lt. Steve Thibodeau said.
Under the sheriff’s proposal, two deputies would patrol the town around the clock. A third deputy would join them from 3 to 11 p.m. every day.
The town’s police department would change from eight officers on the road, four sergeants, a lieutenant and a police chief to 10 officers with the chief becoming the lieutenant in charge. Dispatchers would have to apply for vacant spots in the sheriff’s communications center.
Thibodeau said current officers would fill the deputy positions in a seamless transition. “What has changed? They’re in a green uniform; they have a patrol car that’s just like the sheriff’s in green and white with the ‘Town of Ocean Ridge” on the side,” Thibodeau said.
But Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi said sheriff’s deputies could not do everything his department does.
“I do not believe that going with this contract will maintain the same level of service,” Yannuzzi said, citing the loss of 24-hour-a-day code enforcement. But he said he respected the Sheriff’s Office. “If the vote is to go green, I’m with you because I’m a good soldier,” he said.
The outpouring of support for the local force — evidenced by a crowd of more than 170 people — convinced Sheriff Ric Bradshaw he should pull the proposal, according to a television report.
But, Schenck said after the report, “It’s not off the table.”
The town manager said sheriff’s officials told him they would no longer actively pursue the contract. Ocean Ridge commissioners will decide whether to continue negotiations at their June 4 meeting.
Mayor Roger Bennett of Briny Breezes, which pays Ocean Ridge $185,000 a year for police services, asked commissioners at the workshop to keep the status quo.
“It would be a hardship for us to find a replacement for the good service we have now,” Bennett said.
The $544,000 first-year savings equals about $820 in town taxes for the owner of a home valued at $1 million, Schenck said.
Roger Rose, president of the Pelican Cove Homeowners Association, was not impressed.
“Will you promise not to spend those savings on some other silly expenditure?” he asked.
Along with higher salaries, the Sheriff’s Office would give officers that make the switch better training, cheaper medical insurance and a take-home car, Thibodeau said. “No local control is lost,” he said.
Sgt. Steve Wohlfiel, who is also the police union’s representative, said based on past sheriff’s mergers he did not think any officer or dispatcher would lose a job.
“From an officer’s perspective they would be in far better shape by going to the sheriff’s department than by staying the same,” he said after the meeting.