The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council rejected a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office contract amendment last month proposing a 2 percent raise, based on a technicality that the PBSO submitted the raise after the March 31 deadline.
The proposed contract with the PBSO was for services beginning Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019. The proposed hike comes on the heels of last year, when the cost of the contract nearly doubled.
At the July 17 meeting, Vice Mayor Todd McLendon said they could reject the contract amendment because it had not been submitted on time, but the town received a letter from the PBSO dated July 20 explaining that the agreement will not be renewed unless the town accepts the contract addendum as written.
At a meeting this Tuesday, the council discussed the July 20 letter, where Town Manager Bill Underwood said the contract would continue for a year without the raise, but advised the council that it should be prepared for non-renewal the following year.
“I think the council, possibly next year, may have an issue relative to funding, whatever you want to do with the sheriff,” Underwood said.
Councilman Dave DeMarois agreed that the town could have problems if the PBSO does not renew the contract next year, but McLendon said the agency would have to provide notice to the town.
At the July 17 meeting, McLendon expressed his displeasure at the expense of the PBSO contract.
“They missed the boat when they asked for their increase,” he said. “We’re paying them way too much money. They haven’t exceeded my expectations as far as what we have gotten for what we’re paying. Their rate right now is $610,000. I’d as soon cancel their contract. Unfortunately, we can’t. I looked at the contract, and we have to notify them two months before March 31, but I’m sure not going to give them a raise, especially when they missed the boat on it.”
McLendon proposed changing the contract from $622,000 to the original figure of $610,000. “I am not about to give them a raise with the financial situation we’re in right now,” he said.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia agreed with no raise, adding that the town has some issues she would like addressed.
“I have a gigantic problem with the sheriff’s contract,” she said. “The fact that they doubled our rate when we couldn’t take care of our roads. It is our fault at the end of the day, but I see them at the Publix, and I’m hearing people chronically getting robbed.”
McLendon pointed out that hiring a Florida Highway Patrol officer for private duty is $51 an hour, where a PBSO deputy is $71.03. “That’s a significant amount more,” he said.
Mayor Dave Browning agreed.
“No one felt more ripped than I did when they doubled the contract last year, but we’ve got to look at the alternative,” Browning said. “Are we ready to put together our own police department and buy the cars and put the deputies out there? When I sat down with them, that was the alternative.”
He added that there is a reason more and more municipalities are doing away with their own police departments and going with the PBSO.
“We can say we’re not going to give you the 2 percent increase this year,” Browning said. “Next year, I don’t know what we’ll get, and we have to be prepared. Are we going to replace them? Will we get a qualified deputy who’s not a reject from every other department? The sheriff uses top-quality people.”
Maniglia said she felt the council does not know what its alternatives are, and McLendon wondered what the town’s legal requirements are for an adequate police force.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said that if the town does not meet legal sufficiency for a police force, it could be open to a lawsuit.
McLendon noted that the town met legal sufficiency before the PBSO doubled the contract.
“Why do we need a guy here full-time?” he asked. “Why did we need to double that? I think we have way more than we legally need.”
Maniglia said the council needs more time to look at the contract.
“I just think we need to evaluate the situation with the sheriff,” she said. “I am absolutely not for this increase.”
DeMarois felt that the town was not ready to start its own police force.
“I know what it takes to train police officers,” DeMarois said. “I know all the standards required, and believe me, we can’t afford to go private.”
DeMarois added that in the event of a bad accident or a shooting, the PBSO has backup to fully address the situation.
“You get the whole package,” he said. “You’re not just getting the four or five guys who are here.”
Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler also opposed the contract increase.
“We can negotiate our way out of it, particularly since Todd found an error where they didn’t get the notification to us in time,” Batcheler said. “On the other hand, we’re in a bad place concerning that. I don’t think we could put in our own police force for under a million dollars.”
Maniglia said she felt the town needs to pick apart the contract and renegotiate, while McLendon said he felt the town did not need to pay a premium price for a premium service.
DeMarois reminded council members that the PBSO has three or four vehicles dedicated to the town, and McLendon said that was his point. “I don’t think we need that,” he said.
Browning noted that Town Manager Bill Underwood had been able to negotiate the contract down by almost $100,000 last year when the PBSO proposed a large increase.
A motion to approve the contract without the 2 percent raise carried 5-0.