Because of a reporting error, The Coastal Star incorrectly reported that Greenacres has a contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for police services. The error appeared in the April edition in a story about a Sheriff’s Office proposal to Ocean Ridge.
By Tim O’Meilia
Ocean Ridge taxpayers could save nearly $700,000 next year by replacing their own police force with Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies, based on a proposal made by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Ten road patrol deputies would replace the 13 on-the-street Ocean Ridge police officers (the town added a position last month) but maintain the minimum of two officers in each of the town’s two patrol zones at all times, according to the sheriff’s offer.
The town’s chief of police and lieutenant would be replaced by a sheriff’s lieutenant in command around the clock. The sheriff’s communications office would take the place of the town’s six dispatch positions, one of which is currently vacant.
“Looking strictly at the dollars, it’s attractive,” said Town Manager Ken Schenck. “But there’s more than just dollars involved. All we’re trying to do is point out the pros and cons. It’s really up to the town residents and the Town Commission to decide.”
The 10-year contract would cost the town $1,145,450 for each of the first two years, an even lower price than the sheriff offered neighboring Manalapan last month.
Asked if he thought the sheriff was low-balling the town with the intent of hiking the cost substantially beginning in the third year, Schenck said, “They made the price so low you would really have to think about it.”
This year’s police budget is $1,714,395. But Schenck anticipates a $122,000 budget increase next year to cover two new police cars and increases in health insurance and pension costs.
The sheriff’s contract would shave this year’s budget by $569,000 if it were in effect now and cut next year’s anticipated costs by $691,000.
“I think we need to look at this with an open mind. We need to make sure the level of service is not diminished,” said Commissioner Zoanne Hennigan, who has begun her own analysis of the finances.
Even if the sheriff’s offer is unrealistically low the first two years and was increased later at twice the rate of Ocean Ridge’s current police budget increases, Hennigan calculated that it take 11 years before the cost of the sheriff’s office would match Ocean Ridge’s.
“It’s the same officers, for the most part, just wearing a different uniform,” she said. She wants to interview officials in other towns who have switched to the sheriff’s office — such as Lake Worth, Wellington, Mangonia Park — to see if they are satisfied.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi was skeptical of the proposed numbers, wondering how a proposal for eight deputies and a lieutenant in Manalapan costs $20,000 more than 10 deputies and a lieutenant in Ocean Ridge.
He also noted there was no guarantee the town’s officers could shift to the sheriff’s office. Town officers who meet the sheriff’s standards would remain on duty in the town as sheriff’s deputies and operate from the town’s Police Department offices. But no arrangements were made for the police chief, lieutenant or dispatchers.
Most of the officers would earn more money if they were shifted to the sheriff’s office.
The commission recently approved a 13th police position to move closer to having three officers on the street during every shift. The sheriff’s offer guarantees two.
The town’s deputies would not answer calls at nearby county parks or county pockets, under the contract, except in “exigent circumstances.”
But, Yannuzzi said, it seemed impractical for a deputy to drive from a Military Trail office to answer a call at Ocean Inlet Park when an Ocean Ridge deputy is much closer. He also said the cost of hiring deputies for special events and meetings would likely be higher than shuffling officers as Ocean Ridge does.
“I think it’s premature and perhaps a little irresponsible to form an opinion now before we’ve even heard the proposal or asked any questions,” Commissioner Ed Brookes said. “The cart is way before the horse.”
Town residents would lose the immediate response by town police to home alarms because the sheriff’s office does not offer that service.
Schenck said that deputies would continue to make “dark house” checks, but that is not spelled out in the proposal and details of code enforcement would have to be worked out.
During last summer’s budget hearings, former Mayor Ken Kaleel asked the sheriff’s office to make a proposal for commissioners to consider.
Either party could cancel the contract by giving notice by June 30 for termination effective Oct. 1. The town would pay a $250,000 penalty for cancelling in the first year.
As part of the fallout of Ocean Ridge hiring the sheriff’s department, nearby Briny Breezes would lose its $185,000 annual contract for police services from Ocean Ridge.
PBSO presentations scheduled
Town of Manalapan
• 406 residents, 2.4 square miles
Manalapan commissioners scheduled a workshop session to discuss the sheriff’s $1.17 million proposal to provide police services for 10 a.m. April 23.
Town of Ocean Ridge
• 1,786 residents, 2 square miles
Ocean Ridge commissioners set a workshop session for 6 p.m. May 8 to hear a presentation from the sheriff’s office and discuss the $1.15 million proposal.