Briny Breezes: Ocean Ridge gets nod for police coverage

By Margie Plunkett

The Ocean Ridge Police Department will begin patrolling Briny Breezes in October after winning council’s unanimous support with last-minute contract concessions in its competition with current provider Boynton Beach Police Department.

Briny Breezes voted to pay $185,000 a year under a three-year contract after Ocean Ridge eliminated a 4 percent annual increase. The package saved about $129,000 over the Boynton Beach proposal of $219,350 a year and was particularly alluring as Briny Breezes faces a budget year pinched by falling property tax revenue and a maxed-out tax rate.

The concessions turned the vote of aldermen including Frank Barba, who said he had supported Boynton Beach but was swayed by the increase in the already substantial dollar difference in proposals.

The tiny town opted for a three-year pact — Ocean Ridge offered the choice of one-, two- or three-years — with a clause that allows it or Ocean Ridge to get out of the contract with 60 days’ notice. The council’s unanimous vote included new Alderman Peter Fingerhut, sworn in at the June 24 meeting to replace Karen Wiggins after she joined the corporate board.

Mayor Roger Bennett sought concessions from both Boynton Beach and Ocean Ridge as Briny Breezes neared its June 30 deadline for notifying Boynton Beach if it would renew its police contract.

Boynton Beach City Manager Kurt Bressner, who indicated the 4 percent increase would likely remain even with a one-year contract, said he would take the requests to his June 15 commission meeting, according to a letter by Briny Breezes attorney Jerome Skrandel.

But Bressner delayed submitting them until a July 20 commission meeting and lifted Briny Breezes’ June 30 deadline, the letter said. The morning of Briny Breezes June 24 meeting, Boynton Beach said it would allow a one-year contract with two one-year renewal options and the 4 percent increase would apply throughout, according to Skrandel.

When Mayor Bennett approached Ocean Ridge, Town Manager Ken Schenck and Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi agreed to a one-year contract, although both preferred three
years. Schenck took the request to eliminate the annual increase to his town commission meeting June 7 where it was approved.

Skrandel’s letter “really shows the Ocean Ridge Commission wants to be our police,” Briny Breezes Alderman Nancy Boczon told Ocean Ridge officials Yannuzzi and Schenck, who attended the meeting where the new police contract was approved. “I feel very confident with what the Boynton Beach police are doing for us. But their city council is not interested in us at all. Yours bent over backwards. Especially today we’re feeling it.”

Ocean Ridge patrolled Briny Breezes for many years before the Boynton Beach Police Department was hired. “You know the entire department,” Yannuzzi told aldermen
before the vote. “We worked in Briny Breezes for the 30 years up to the (proposed) sale of the property. We’re asking you to come back.”

Resident and former Briny Breezes Town Clerk Rita Taylor brought up a point she hadn’t heard mentioned at all: “You have a big benefit in Ocean Ridge because they have their own dispatch center. They’re all familiar with all our streets as well as Ocean Ridge.”

Wayne Segal, Boynton Beach public affairs director, said in a later e-mail regarding Briny Breeze’s vote: “It was a business decision. Nothing more. It’s no reflection on the service that was provided in the past.”

Briny Breezes leaders had often appeared to lean toward re-hiring Boynton Beach police over the several months they’ve considered the contract, despite the higher cost. They’ve praised Boynton Beach Police Department for its performance and noted advantages in its dedicated eight-hour shift, the resources available from a larger police department and ancillary services including a marine patrol.

Some residents had even suggested that information sent out about both police department proposals with an earlier poll of residents was skewed in favor of
Boynton Beach. The survey itself resulted in 118 supporting re-hiring Boynton
Beach police and 72 in favor of Ocean Ridge.

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