LOXAHATCHEE GROVES — Three western communities have agreed to renew their law-enforcement contracts with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Wellington and Royal Palm Beach did so without debate. Loxahatchee Groves wants to renegotiate the price.
PBSO is the county’s largest law-enforcement agency. While it patrols unincorporated areas as a constitutional requirement, it negotiates annual agreements with the 13 cities, towns and villages that do not have their own law-enforcement departments. Many of those communities are west of Florida’s Turnpike.
Under the terms of the contracts, which take effect Oct. 1, PBSO is obligated to conduct criminal investigations, arrest offenders, respond to 911 calls, issue traffic citations and testify in court, in addition to other services.
Wellington council members on Aug. 10 unanimously approved the village’s agreement at a cost of $10.1 million.
Wellington, home to about 65,000 people, is scheduled to have a total of 147 PBSO workers, including 48 deputy sheriffs, six road patrol sergeants and 73 part-time crossing guards.
Royal Palm Beach approved its $8.2 million contract on July 15. Fred Pinto, its mayor, said the 40,000-resident village has become one of the safest communities in the state while working with PBSO.
Loxahatchee Groves says its residents’ taxes should pay for PBSO contract
Opinions differed at a Loxahatchee Groves meeting on Aug. 2, where council members voted 3-2 to renew their $622,200 agreement.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia led the opposition, saying Loxahatchee Groves should spend the money on paving its streets and improving its drainage.
She argued that $1.3 million of the taxes Loxahatchee Groves residents and businesses pay to Palm Beach County already goes to PBSO and that there have been complaints from residents that the agency’s deputies and patrols are not always visible.
That $1.3 million should entitle Loxahatchee Groves to “emergency services, 911 calls, et cetera” in the 3,500-resident town, said Maniglia, who voted with council member Marge Herzog to oppose the renewal.
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said the town’s charter requires it to use PBSO for law enforcement. He also pointed out that the contract that will become active on Oct. 1, brings no changes in price or service over the prior year.
“This year, for a number of reasons and considerations, the sheriff has not proposed an increase to the contract, nor any service changes,” he said.
Vice Mayor Laura Danowski voted to approve but said she would like to see a change in the town’s relationship with PBSO.
She said she previously discussed withthe town attorney a possible renegotiation to a 12-hour shift from a 24-hour shift, which takes five road patrol deputies to staff.
“I kind of feel like I asked for a steak and got a bologna sandwich. I feel like it never was pursued,” she said. “I realize that this is a very soft-shoe dance between the town and the sheriff’s department.”
Loxahatchee Groves’ option would be to start its own police force
Unless council officials “jump off the financial cliff” to create a town law-enforcement division, she said, the town has no choice but to rely on PBSO. She acknowledged that neighboring communities also rely on PBSO’s services, so the town would become isolated in its decision to create its own division.
“Royal Palm uses Palm Beach County. Wellington uses Palm Beach County. Westlake uses Palm Beach County,” she said.
Councilwoman Marianne Miles compared her approval of the sheriff’s contract to life insurance: something she may not want to pay for, but something she didn’t want to need and not have.
“If we don’t have a police presence or one that is established like we have, and we have to go out again and either hire our own, we kind of start over,” she said. “We have a rapport with the sheriff. We know what we are going to pay right now. Everything costs money. Doesn’t matter what it is. Our roads cost money. Our sheriffs cost money,”
Mayor Robert Shorr showed his support for the contract and said that PBSO has the “latest and greatest of everything” in regard to resources.
Even with his approval of the contract and appreciation of its unchanged cost, he said, he, too, is open to having a discussion with PBSO.