By Dan Moffett
Neighborly relations between Ocean Ridge and Boynton Beach have frayed in recent months, mostly because of the city’s support for high-density residential projects on Federal Highway.
Now the two municipalities have found something else to dispute: Who will protect and serve the good citizens of Briny Breezes?
Ocean Ridge thought it had a three-year contract to provide police services to Briny Breezes ready for the town’s approval on Aug. 18, thinking it was basically a rubber-stamp blessing of the existing arrangement.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the council meeting. Boynton Beach officials showed up in Briny Breezes with a contract proposal with a price tag that was 10 percent lower than Ocean Ridge’s. And the offer came with a familiar deliveryman — Chris Yannuzzi.
Now a captain with the Boynton Beach Police Department, Yannuzzi started 2015 as Ocean Ridge’s police chief and Briny Breezes’ town marshal, then was forced to resign after a dustup with Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella.
If Briny Breezes signs a contract with Boynton Beach, Yannuzzi would return as the “point of contact” for the town and its marshal, Boynton Beach Assistant Police Chief Vanessa Snow told Briny Breezes’ council members.
“I’m in a very unique position,” Yannuzzi said.
“Every single person had a smile on their face,” Snow said, when Boynton Beach officers learned about the possibility of policing Briny Breezes.
Snow and Yannuzzi presented Boynton Beach as the bigger and better-equipped alternative for Briny Breezes, with a full-time force of 155 sworn officers compared with Ocean Ridge’s 16. Boynton Beach is a fully accredited agency, they told the council. Ocean Ridge is still working on accreditation. Boynton Beach’s three-year proposal would cost Briny Breezes $200,000 annually, compared with Ocean Ridge’s contract of roughly $221,000. Briny Breezes Town Attorney John Skrandel said he thought Boynton Beach’s lower cost was derived from “economies of scale” that a larger agency could leverage.
It took Ocean Ridge only five days after the Briny Breezes surprise to come back with a counteroffer. During an Aug. 23 budget workshop, the Town Commission unanimously approved a proposal by Lucibella to sweeten the deal for Briny Breezes: How about a five-year contract, the first year at the current cost of about $213,000, followed by four years of 4 percent annual increases to cover inflation?
“If they leave, they’ll be back,” Lucibella said. “They matter to us. It’s a great relationship. It’s a good deal for us. We want to keep it that way. They don’t want Boynton handling this.”
Ocean Ridge police have covered Briny Breezes for most of the last three decades, except for a three-year window from 2007 to 2010 when Boynton Beach had the contract. Briny Breezes officials were unsatisfied with Boynton Beach’s performance then and went back to Ocean Ridge.
But Yannuzzi and Snow say their department has undergone a “cultural transformation” in recent years under the leadership of Police Chief Jeffrey Katz. Yannuzzi told the Briny Breezes council that Boynton Beach has embraced “community policing that is much more citizen-focused” and upgraded personnel.
“I’m unbelievably impressed with the quality of the officers that came on board,” Yannuzzi said.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins has countered that his department is based entirely on the barrier island and doesn’t have to contend with response time issues such as trains and drawbridges. Hutchins said there is a close link between Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes, and that his officers think of it as policing a single town.
“We provide more than six patrols a day,” Hutchins said. “We’re part of this community. … We consider Briny Breezes a continuation of Ocean Ridge.”
Several Briny Breezes aldermen have privately complained about the rising costs of doing business with Ocean Ridge. Councilman Bobby Jurovaty said he encouraged Boynton Beach to come up with an offer and give the town a competitive choice.
Briny Breezes Council President Sue Thaler said the town will make that choice during a special budget meeting that begins at 5:01 p.m. Sept. 8. The new contract will take effect Oct. 1.