By Dan Moffett
The full cost of Manalapan’s plan to dramatically expand its Police Department is reflected in a proposed total budget for 2019-20 that has grown about 37 percent over the last two years.
During a workshop on June 26, Town Manager Linda Stumpf told commissioners the proposed budget of $5.5 million is up $319,797 over last year, with most of the increase ($214,243) because of an upgrade to the police pension plan.
After a series of car thefts late in 2017, the Town Commission approved an ambitious plan to create four new police positions, add private security guards, certify a marine unit and improve the department’s technology.
Today Manalapan has 15 sworn officers, two of them part-time, and deploys three patrol cars on the streets at all times. The town has a new license plate recognition camera system, new dispatch center and private security guards assigned to the Point Manalapan gatehouse.
The town’s budget for police salaries has grown 80 percent over the last five years — from about $521,000 in 2015 to a proposed $941,000 — driven in part by increasingly competitive officer recruitment in South Florida.
The total proposed cost of policing the town is $2.58 million, up from $1.4 million five years ago.
Stumpf told the commission that maintaining last year’s tax rate would create a $263,350 budget shortfall, even with an expected 2 percent rise in assessed property values. But with the town having $2.5 million in uncommitted reserves, one of the highest per capita tax bases in Florida and one of the county’s lowest tax rates, covering that deficit isn’t a problem.
“I’d like for us not to raise the millage rate,” said Mayor Keith Waters.
Commissioners agreed, and gave tentative approval to last year’s millage rate of $3.03 per $1,000 of taxable property value, slightly above the rollback rate of $3.02 that would hold year-over-year revenues flat.
Stumpf is recommending a 4 percent raise for police officers and town employees. Manalapan will pay Miami-based SPERE Security $213,000 to station guards at the Point’s gatehouse in the next year.
Another increase in the proposed budget comes from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. The cost of service for the town is up about $66,000 to $1.25 million.
In other business:
• During the regular monthly meeting on June 25, commissioners gave final approval to a zoning ordinance that changes the building rules for seven lots at the town’s southernmost entrance.
The ordinance essentially flips the current housing pattern and allows primary residences to be built on the ocean side of State Road A1A. Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene owns three of the lots and wants to build houses on the east side of the road.
• The commission is also moving forward with zoning changes for the Plaza del Mar commercial district. The commission’s consensus is to prohibit convenience stores, vape shops, tobacco shops and drive-thrus. The town would place restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries but, because of state law, cannot prohibit them.
Waters said he hopes to have the changes in place by the end of the summer. “I don’t want to drag this out more than it needs to be,” he said.