Editor’s Note: A summer snowstorm in South Palm Beach

Who says it doesn’t snow in June? At South Palm Beach’s June 18 workshop meeting, I watched a town get snowed under so deep that resident “snowbirds” will see Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office cars and uniforms patrolling their 5/8ths of a mile stretch of A1A when they return next winter — and for the next 10 years.
The “this isn’t a sales pitch” sales pitch from PBSO created a paralyzing white-out for both residents and the Town Council. How could anyone shovel against the desires of their beloved police officers, the dazzling benefits of PBSO and potential budget savings? The drifts were so high that no one asked hard questions, and by the end of the evening even anti-big-government residents were embracing big government.
It’s possible council members asked difficult questions while touring PBSO’s state-of-the-art communications center earlier in the month. But, at the June workshop no one questioned the impassioned pleas of South Palm Beach officers for the better pay and benefits package it seems only PBSO can offer. No one asked the officers why they hadn’t already interviewed and been hired by PBSO if these were their dream jobs.
With so many officers added for school district security since the Parkland murders, there’s no shortage of law enforcement jobs in the area — but these are competitive.
The promise of “the same officers just in different uniforms” may fall apart once all officers are required to meet PBSO hiring standards for road patrol positions. Time will tell.
At the workshop, the blizzard conditions increased with the razzle-dazzle of all the amazing resources the PBSO has to offer.
Has no one paid attention to their county tax bill? Forty-seven percent of the county’s general fund budget goes to the sheriff’s office. It’s a number that seems to increase each year as the PBSO absorbs more police departments.
Taxpayers in South Palm Beach are already paying for homicide investigators, marine patrols and helicopters. The PBSO has always responded when needed in South Palm Beach. The investigation into the fatal car accident on A1A in January is in the hands of PBSO’s traffic homicide division. If you haven’t seen a marine patrol boat lately it’s likely because PBSO moved its marine patrol headquarters out of the Boynton Inlet several years ago. But if a boat filled with drugs or refugees washes up, trust me, marine patrol will arrive and there will be helicopters.
PBSO deputies are some of the very best and I have no doubt that every officer working in South Palm Beach will continue to protect and serve. But when the majority of a town’s personnel are assigned to an outside agency, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be an erosion of home rule. If a town’s law enforcement team no longer needs to ask management and elected officials for resources each budget season and no longer needs to stay in their good graces to remain employed, you’ve simply traded home rule for a big contract with an outside agency — one with its own rules, procedures and hiring and firing protocols. The days of council members having their favorite sources within the Police Department will end when it’s the sheriff who is providing their salaries, equipment and benefits.
Each of our coastal municipalities is facing budget concerns about liability insurance costs, pension plan expenditures and ongoing maintenance of equipment. But with home sales back at pre-bust highs, and new construction and tax revenues on the rise, let’s hope these other cities and towns are able to push back against any unexpected snowstorms for a very long time.

— Mary Kate Leming, Editor

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