Lox Groves Council, Residents Alarmed As PBSO Plans Exit

Amid complaints that police services are very costly and an initial refusal to pay an increase in the annual contract, it seems that the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council has distinguished itself in the eyes of Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who provides those police services. And the attention is not good.

Bradshaw sent a letter to Loxahatchee Groves Town Manager Bill Underwood dated Oct. 1 indicating that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office would terminate law enforcement services to the town, in accordance with its agreement with the town, at the end of the current contract next year.

“As such, the town should begin planning its transition to a town police department, or make whatever other arrangements as are necessary to provide law enforcement for the town,” Bradshaw’s letter stated.

The letter continued that the PBSO is committed to the town and to fulfilling its contractual obligations until the contract’s termination, and will cooperate with the town during its transition, as required by the agreement.

“However, since the sheriff has provided almost a full year’s notice of the termination, the town is being given more than sufficient time to arrange [other] law enforcement services,” the letter continued.

In response to an inquiry from the Town-Crier, PBSO Media Director Teri Barbera stated that Loxahatchee Groves has indicated that they are not satisfied with the level of service they are receiving from the PBSO and that the cost of the service is too expensive.

“Given that position by Loxahatchee Groves, the sheriff’s office has decided to give them the opportunity to form their own law enforcement agency during the next year, and [the PBSO] will assist them in doing so,” Barbera stated in an e-mail to the Town-Crier. “In the meantime, there is no change in any level of service. The present contract remains in effect, but the sheriff’s office will not renew the contract with them as of Oct. 1, 2019. The sheriff’s office will always be available to assist the residents of Loxahatchee Groves, even after the formation of their own agency.”

In the confusion over supply and demand of police services to communities within Palm Beach County, and just where the Town of Loxahatchee Groves might fall in the pecking order, the council chafed at the PBSO’s contract hike last year, which nearly doubled the cost, requiring the town to pay all of its ad valorem revenue to cover the contract.

More recently, the council rejected a two percent hike totaling about $20,000 in the cost of the contract because of a missed deadline to renegotiate, but the council later granted the raise when the PBSO held firm, stating that the agency would discontinue its services were the increase not paid.

At a special workshop Tuesday, council members and residents said the town should try to make amends with the PBSO.

Former Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor Frank Schiola said there is no way that the town can afford the millions of dollars necessary to start its own police department.

Former Councilman Ron Jarriel encouraged the council to reach out to Bradshaw.

“I think you got started off on the wrong foot with the PBSO,” Jarriel said. “I personally have confidence in the PBSO. I think their main goal in Palm Beach County is to serve the residents. I think the negative comments and insults to them need to stop, especially as far as the council goes. The residents you can’t control, but according to the charter, we can use any law enforcement agency that we want.”

Councilman Dave DeMarois said that’s not possible because there are no municipalities contiguous to the town that do not use PBSO services.

Jarriel asked if the law enforcement agency had to be contiguous.

“I believe that West Palm Beach, if we wanted to use them, we could use them,” he said, pointing out that the charter does not specify that the law enforcement agency must be contiguous. “[The charter] doesn’t say, ‘surrounding Loxahatchee Groves.’”

Jarriel does not believe starting a town police department is economically feasible.

“If you guys even discuss again having your own police department, you’re looking bad as it is, but nobody can compare,” he said.

Connie Bell, who sits on the town’s Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, said the town needs to make amends with the PBSO.

“The best municipalities are using them because they are that good,” Bell said. “We shouldn’t be waiting six months to figure out [what to do]. We need to go back to the sheriff’s office. We put you guys in office to represent us and do what we have to do so that they don’t leave here next year. I don’t think it would be wise of anybody in this town to not have the sheriff’s office. I don’t see any other viable resources out there other than fixing it with the sheriff’s office. I do not think we gave them the respect that they deserve.”

Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler agreed with Jarriel’s and Bell’s comments. “I don’t think they can be beat,” Batcheler said. “I support them 100 percent. I would encourage anyone here who would like to see the sheriff’s office stay to contact the town, contact the sheriff’s office and contact any of your council members. I think it’s really important that they stay.”

Vice Mayor Todd McLendon agreed that the PBSO should stay.

“I don’t think contacting council members is going to do it,” McLendon said. “It’s up to Ric Bradshaw whether it happens or not, so that’s what needs to be done. I thought they did a good service here. I think it costs us a lot of money, but no doubt about it’s the cheapest route to go. They buy in bulk, and using them is the most cost-effective way.”