By Steve Plunkett,
and Margie Plunkett
Cooperation was at the top of the menu for the first luncheon of mayors from South Palm Beach to Gulf Stream.
Mayor Ken Kaleel of Ocean Ridge organized the meeting at Callaro’s Prime Steak and Seafood shortly before the restaurant left Manalapan, mostly so coastal leaders could get to know each other better. By the end of the meal they decided hiring a consultant might be the best way to consolidate services and save tax dollars.
The consultant could view the towns as a blank slate, consider the best way to operate and make recommendations, Kaleel told his commissioners afterward. Kaleel envisioned the consultant’s looking at the personalities of each town and asking, “In what ways can we make it better for our communities?”
If each municipality kicked in “a couple grand” for the study, it would be money well-spent, Kaleel said, noting in his town it could come out of the contingency fund.
Lantana was the first to commit money, voting to spend up to $5,000 on the cooperative study when Mayor David Stewart updated his commission June 13.
Mayor Roger Bennett of Briny Breezes said that amount was more than his town was prepared to spend.
“We would pitch in a little bit if need be,’’ Bennett said. “We’re such a small operation. … I’m just more or less along for the ride.”
In Manalapan, commissioners on June 28 told Mayor Basil Diamond to continue talking with the mayors and report back on the consultant’s cost.
“We don’t know if this would cost $2,000 or $3,000 per town or less,” Diamond said.
South Palm Beach Mayor Donald Clayman was on the other side of the fence .
“I will listen to anything, but I am very happy with our situation,” Clayman said later. “I am not interested in paying to do a study. Those cost a lot of money. Lake Worth recently did one on their police situation and it cost something like $20,000.”
Council Members Stella Jordan, Susan Lillybeck and Joseph Flagello disagreed.
“I think we need to get to the table with these other cities. If we don’t like it, we can step away from it,” Flagello said.
No vote was taken.
The towns already share some services. Briny Breezes gets police patrols from Ocean Ridge, for instance, and South Palm Beach contracts with Lantana for emergency dispatch services. Gulf Stream pays Delray Beach for fire-rescue, while Manalapan has fire-rescue from the county.
There is no timetable for hiring a consultant, and the mayors have not scheduled a second get-together. Kaleel said with budget season already here, the mayors were not in a rush to choose a consultant.
“It’s really something for next year,” Kaleel said. “For this year it’s too late.”
Early overtures made
Meanwhile, Manalapan made its own efforts to consolidate services in June. The town issued a request for proposals to take over its police dispatch service, which has four full-time dispatchers and four part-timers and costs its taxpayers $367,700 a year.
Atlantis, Greenacres, Lantana and Ocean Ridge picked up copies of the RFP, but only Ocean Ridge filed a bid.
Ocean Ridge wants $450,000 the first year, followed by $257,500 the next and $265,255 the third year. While the three-year total is a net gain of $130,375 the first-year amount is $82,300 more than Manalapan currently spends.
“This is a bit of a sticker shock,” Manalapan Vice Mayor Robert Evans said, explaining that he had expected bids closer to the $57,000 South Palm Beach pays Lantana for dispatching.
Manalapan commissioners told their town manager and police chief to work with their Ocean Ridge counterparts to fine-tune the proposal, but agreed they might be better off waiting for a consultant.
Another proposal offered
While Ocean Ridge was developing its bid, Manalapan Mayor Diamond wrote Clayman offering to put his town’s police and dispatchers on duty in South Palm Beach.
Under one scenario, he wrote, South Palm Beach would become part of Manalapan’s South Ocean Boulevard zone for $201,570, saving South Palm Beach about $730,000 a year. A second scenario had South Palm Beach becoming a third zone in Manalapan with its own full-time officer for $531,177, a savings of $401,000.
Clayman rejected the unsolicited proposals.
“Our residents have been vocal about maintaining a high level of visual police presence in the community to keep crime incidents to a minimum, and to provide swift service when called,’’ he wrote back.
“I also believe, as we are anticipating a minimum of two (2) years for the closing of the Lantana Bridge, this is not a good time to be looking at a reduced police presence on the island for either of our communities.’’
Such differences aside, Kaleel said towns on the barrier island have common issues and a lot of similarities, including “a like mind as to what they see the future of our communities to be.”
But annexation is not an option.
“I don’t think we could annex,’’ Kaleel said. “We’re not looking to be one town.” Ú