On Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved its contract for law enforcement services next year, but asked for an opinion from the state attorney general as to whether the town is required to have more police protection than what is provided by Palm Beach County taxes.
The decision was made during a discussion on the annual Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office contract, where the town agrees to pay $622,200 a year for additional law enforcement services, over an estimated $1.2 million that town residents pay in taxes through the county to the sheriff.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia made a motion to approve the contract but obtain an opinion from the attorney general on how much police coverage the town must have in addition to what the PBSO provides to the town from county taxes. The town’s charter states that law enforcement must be provided by the PBSO or a referendum must be held on forming its own police force.
Councilman Robert Shorr said he agreed with the contract but not with getting an attorney general opinion.
Councilwoman Marge Herzog said she agreed with getting an attorney general opinion but felt it would not change anything this year.
“I know this was brought up many times when the sheriff was going to raise the contract and there was some question as to whether there was another route to go, or whether we needed to have as much enforcement as we agreed to,” Herzog said. “I agree it’s not going to change anything this year, the contract we’re voting on, so let’s get the opinion.”
Town Attorney Brian Shutt said the attorney general would probably weigh in on how state statutes affect law enforcement but would not likely opine on provisions of the town charter or ordinances related to law enforcement.
Maniglia said the sheriff’s contract is a sensitive issue.
“[The attorney general question] would be to find out what we get with our Palm Beach County base taxes,” she said. “This is totally for education, only for our residents.”
PBSO Lt. Craig Turner said he did not know of any county municipality that had law enforcement provided solely by county taxes.
“I’m not aware of one that we provide services to without actually having a contact in place,” Turner said, adding that if there was no contract, the PBSO would probably respond only to serious situations where life or health is involved.
The current PBSO contract provides for a full-time deputy on duty serving the town at all times.
He said that in addition to having a deputy on duty for three shifts, the contract includes a shift sergeant, as well as all other services provided by the PBSO. He noted that Sheriff Ric Bradshaw had waived all contract price increases this year in consideration of hardships to municipalities due to COVID-19.
During public comment, former Councilman Todd McLendon said he favored getting an attorney general opinion because it would answer many questions that have hung over the town regarding law enforcement.
“I think it’s imperative to get this attorney general opinion for educational purposes,” McLendon said. “We’re renewing the contract, so it’s not ruffling any feathers… but I think it’s important that we know what our legal requirement is as a municipality.”
Maniglia’s motion carried 4-1 with Shorr opposed.