The Coastal Star

Ocean Ridge: Ocean Ridge plans to beef up Police Department

Plans for license tag cameras still on hold

By Dan Moffett

    Ocean Ridge town commissioners have decided to add two patrol officers and a dispatcher to their Police Department to deal with the growing stream of beach visitors from across the bridge.
    A 6 percent increase in the town’s taxable property values from 2016 makes the police expansion possible, though commissioners and Police Chief Hal Hutchins won’t get everything they’d like to have — including license plate recognition cameras, Tasers and body cameras.
    During an Aug. 22 budget workshop, the commission agreed to lower the town’s tax rate from $5.35 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $5.25, reducing total revenues by about $85,000. The reduction is made possible because of a surplus of about $186,000 left unspent from the 2016-2017 budget.
    However, homeowners will still pay slightly more, about 3 percent, during the next fiscal year than the last one because of property appreciation. The rollback rate that would keep revenues flat is $5.08 per $1,000.
    The decision to hold off on installing LPR cameras will save the town about $225,000 but comes with a cost in public opinion. For years, many residents have called for the commission to install the devices to tighten security throughout the town.
    Hutchins said his position on the camera system has evolved and he now believes the priority should be adding officers. He hinted that the town might be able to do better shopping for the cameras later but declined to disclose why publicly.
    “Are we over-hiring? That is my question,” Mayor Geoff Pugh asked.
    “I need to be very, very candid right now with all of you. We are not in fact over-hiring,” Hutchins responded. “The activity levels we’re seeing on the law enforcement side are increasing every day, based upon outside forces that we can’t control. There’s an anticipation that there’s going to be exponential growth within a block of this building [Town Hall] very soon. We need to address that.”
    The chief said new residential developments in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Lantana ensure that the two officers and dispatcher will be kept busy. The three new positions will cost the town about $180,000. Hutchins said a proposal to hire part-time officers won’t work because he has been unable to find qualified applicants who are willing to work when the town needs them.
    The three new hires would increase the department’s number of full-time employees to 24, which includes the chief, dispatchers and uniformed officers. Their annual salaries amount to about $1.4 million and the town pays another $270,500 in pension contributions.
    The commission will hold public hearings on the proposed budget on Sept. 11 and Sept. 21, each beginning at 6 p.m.
    In other business, on a 4-1 vote, commissioners decided to approve changing the current one-year contract for Town Manager Jamie Titcomb to a month-to-month agreement.
    Several commissioners have complained about errors in Titcomb’s budget work over the last two years. The manager has countered that he inherited budget practices that were outdated and needed an overhaul. Titcomb said obsolete computer software and personnel turnover made the improvements he implemented more difficult.
    The new contract arrangement doesn’t affect Titcomb’s $107,000 yearly salary or benefits, but does reduce the severance the town would owe him, should the commission decide to end the relationship.
    Commissioner Gail Aaskov voted against the new contract, saying it was unnecessary.

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