Loxahatchee Groves Town Manager Bill Underwood reported Tuesday that a proposed new contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office would add a full-time deputy dedicated to the town, but more than double the town’s annual contract cost — a cost that will need to be passed on to property owners.
“We received a contract,” Underwood said. “We’ve been working with the sheriff for two or three months now trying to work through the process. This is a significant change. This actually will put a police officer in the Town of Loxahatchee Groves, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a 10-year contract. This first contract will take us from roughly $294,000 up to $610,000.”
The contract would raise the town’s property tax rate to 2.788 mills, an increase of 1.3162 mills
“I do have [PBSO] Major [Tony] Araujo here if you have any particular questions,” Underwood said, adding that he wanted council input on the contract. “Hopefully, you can give us some input tonight relative to anything you do or don’t like in the contract besides the price. I’d always like a reduced price, but he started out at a much higher number.”
Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel said that if the contract is approved with a full-time deputy, he would prefer four-wheel-drive pickup trucks rather than squad cars due to the rough terrain in the town.
Araujo said he had spoken with the sheriff and every officer assigned full-time to the town would have a pickup truck.
“Once that contract comes into play, I can’t get them right away,” he said. “I have to order them, but it will be done.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois said he appreciated Araujo working with Underwood to get the price down some.
“It’s going to be a very hard year,” DeMarois said. “We have a lot of things going on here.”
“I have a very sharp pencil because the money has got to come from somewhere, but we got it down a little bit more,” Araujo said.
Mayor Dave Browning said he hoped that the increase in cost was not due to the Palm Beach County Commission saying it would not pay any more for the PBSO.
“I think when you go to the county commission, they try to beat you down every time,” Browning said, adding that he did not want those costs passed on to municipalities.
Araujo said the county asks tough questions, as they should, since almost half of its budget goes to the PBSO. “We have to legitimize every dollar we ask for, but as far as the cities and the county, it’s not an apple to an apple,” he said. “If you are a municipality, then we’re a contractual provider to you. If not, you’d have to have your own police department.”
He added that the PBSO provides much more than the patrol vehicles seen on the streets. The town also gets helicopter services, the bomb squad, SWAT, homeland security and other special tactical units.
Councilman Todd McLendon said the price increase is difficult for him to swallow because he did not see how the service would be different, since the patrols are provided now.
“We’re getting double taxation the way I see it,” McLendon said. “We’re paying it through the county, and we’re paying it directly. What are our choices? I don’t know, because I don’t think the Florida Highway Patrol is going to do it.”
Browning said that when deputies write tickets, he has been told that they need to write “Loxahatchee Groves” so the fines will come back to the town, rather than just “Loxahatchee,” which tends to get lost with The Acreage, which is unincorporated.
Jarriel said the contract change will amount to five deputies who will get to know the community and its residents.
“They’re going to get to know where our problems lie,” he said. “Most of you in the audience know that the crime is getting worse in Loxahatchee Groves, especially stealing. It’s happening at night, and the residents have to decide if it’s worth $300,000 to have a dedicated police officer here 24/7. I personally think it’s worth it.”
Jarriel said that since the town incorporated and contracted with the PBSO, he has seen the difference.
“They do things here that we should be paying for,” he said, citing PBSO enforcement of the reduced speed limit on Okeechobee Blvd. as an example. “We weren’t paying them for that extra. I think we need somebody dedicated to look out for our community.”
Jarriel said that if the town does increase taxes to pay for the additional patrols, the council could find ways to give back to the people.
“We don’t want to give it back to the commercial enterprises in this town,” he said. “When we raise the taxes, we’re going to get more from the developers, the businesses and the stuff like that. We do not have to cut their garbage costs. As far as our residents, we have been looking out for them. If we had a tax increase, we’d cut garbage [fees] $100,000 or $120,000. There’s no reason we can’t continue to do that.”
Jarriel encouraged residents to call him and indicate whether increased law enforcement is worth a tax increase or not.
Araujo added that if the town choses to start its own police department, the PBSO would help them with the process.