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 ready for the town’s approval on Thursday, Aug. 18, believing it was basically a rubber-stamp blessing of the existing arrangement.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the council meeting. Boynton Beach showed up in Briny Breezes with a counterproposal 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’s town marshal and then was forced to resign after a dustup with Ocean Ridge Commissioner Richard Lucibella.
If Briny signs a contract with Boynton Beach, Yannuzzi would return as the “point of contact” for the town and its marshal, Boynton Assistant Police Chief Vanessa Snow told Briny’s council members.
“I’m in a very unique position,” Yannuzzi said.
Snow and Yannuzzi presented Boynton as the bigger and better-equipped alternative for Briny, with a full-time force of 155 sworn officers, compared with Ocean Ridge’s 16. Boynton is a fully accredited agency, they told the council. Ocean Ridge is still working on accreditation. Boynton’s three-year proposal would cost Briny $200,000 annually, compared with Ocean Ridge’s offer of just over $221,000.
Briny Town Attorney John Skrandel said he believed Boynton’s lower cost was derived from “economies of scale” that a larger agency could leverage.
“Every single person had a smile on their face,” Snow said, when Boynton officers learned about the possibility of policing Briny.
Ocean Ridge has covered the town for most of the last three decades, except for a three-year window from 2007 to 2010 when Boynton Beach had the contract. Briny officials were unsatisfied with Boynton’s performance then, however, 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 council Boynton has embraced “community policing that is much more citizen-focused” and upgraded its personnel.
“I’m unbelievably impressed with the quality of the officers that came on board,” Yannuzzi said.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins 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.”
Hutchins said he didn’t have the authority to renegotiate the contract price — that was up to elected officials. He said Ocean Ridge Mayor Geoff Pugh and Town Manager Jamie Titcomb had wanted to attend Briny’s August meeting but couldn’t make it because they were out of town.
Several Briny 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 its counterproposal and give the town a competitive choice.
Briny Council President Sue Thaler said the town will make that choice during a Sept. 8 special budget meeting that begins at 5:01 p.m. The new contract will take effect on Oct. 1.