With PBSO Contract Renewal Pending, Groves Council OKs Backstop Ordinance

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved an ordinance Tuesday, May 7 designed to serve as a backstop should negotiations over a new contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office prove unsuccessful.

The town currently has a longstanding agreement for law enforcement services with the PBSO, but some previous renewal negotiations have been rocky.

The new ordinance proposes that in the event there is no contract for law enforcement services in effect between the town and the PBSO, the law enforcement services in the town will be “the standard law enforcement services by the PBSO.”

“This was an ordinance that was before the council once before in 2019,” Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said. “The reason this is here is because we plan to put the sheriff’s contract renewal on the June 4 agenda, and so if there was a desire to make sure that we have a backup plan, the second reading of this ordinance would be at the same time.”

Ramaglia said that the PBSO has notified the town of a proposed four percent increase in the contract.

“The sheriff’s office would like to meet with each one of you to talk about their progress, and an informational meeting on why they propose an increase in the contract,” she said. “I will set those meetings up between now and June 4.”

However, Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia did not think individual meetings are appropriate.

“I think the sheriff should come here and tell the town people what he does for us. I don’t want to have a private meeting with him,” she said.

Councilman Robert Shorr wanted to add a sentence that would guarantee added services to maintain the current level of service, but Mayor Anita Kane did not agree.

“This is to protect the town in the event that we can’t come to an agreement,” she said. “It is not to complicate matters further.”

Kane said that the ordinance does not prevent the town from negotiating a new contract with the PBSO.

Shorr said his addition is intended to continue the services that the residents are used to.

“If we don’t have a contract, it’s going to be emergency services only. We won’t have speed control on Okeechobee,” he said.

Kane, however, did not believe that would be the case. “We pay the same amount people in unincorporated areas pay, and we are entitled to the same services,” she said.

Kane explained that while the town would negotiate a contract in good faith, the ordinance would protect the town should a new contract not be agreed to.

“We revert back to county services just like the people in ITID do,” she said.

Shorr said that the town should then use the $640,000 the town is not paying to the PBSO to augment those services. Kane said that could be part of contract discussions, but not part of the proposed ordinance.

Councilwoman Laura Danowski asked when the contract is set to renew, and Town Attorney Glen Torcivia said it renews at the end of September.

Danowski then asked if the ordinance would create a problem with the charter, and Torcivia said a referendum vote is only needed to start a town police department, which is not called for in the ordinance.

Torcivia said the question is what happens if the ordinance is adopted and then the contract is not renewed.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. “There is an argument that they should provide the same level of service that they provide to unincorporated Palm Beach County residents. I don’t think that has been the sheriff’s position in the past. I don’t want to speak for the sheriff, but I think their position is that you might not get that same level of service.”

Torcivia said it remains to be seen what happens in the contract negotiations.

“This ordinance says, ‘the standard law enforcement services provided by PBSO.’ It’s an interesting dilemma because the PBSO has to enforce the law countywide, and the law in Loxahatchee Groves will say they have to provide the same level of services,” he said.

Torcivia said he hopes that the question doesn’t come down to a court case.

“A court case on this would be intellectually very challenging, but it wouldn’t be in anybody’s best interest,” he said.

He agreed, however, that the ordinance does give the town an additional option if there is no agreement.

Shorr asked about the timeline on the contract.

Ramaglia said that the PBSO informed the town of the four percent increase before the March 31 deadline to do so, but a specific contract has not yet been presented.

“I anticipate that we will have the new contract from them to be able to put on the June 4 agenda,” she said, adding that PBSO representatives will be at that meeting to discuss the contract.

Shorr said that the same ordinance could be enacted in September should the contract negotiations fail.

“I don’t think doing it now helps matters,” he said.

Maniglia made a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, seconded by Vice Mayor Marge Herzog. It passed 4-1 with Shorr dissenting.