By Tim O’Meilia
Ocean Ridge town commissioners will consider giving town employees a 3 percent raise, buying two police cars, a tree-trimming bucket truck and an all-terrain beach vehicle, and replacing the town’s outdated computer system — all in next year’s budget.
Also on the agenda for a July 31 budget workshop meeting were raises for the police chief — the lowest-paid in Palm Beach County, according to a salary survey — the lieutenant and two dispatchers and hiring a part-time beach patrol officer and a second full-time maintenance worker.
The $5.5 million budget proposed by Town Manager Ken Schenck and Town Clerk and Treasurer Karen Hancsak is about $180,000 more than this year’s budget and already includes the employee raises, one police car and $100,000 in street and drainage improvements on Inlet Cay, Thompson Street and Spanish River Drive.
Commissioners set a tentative tax rate of $5.50 per every $1,000 of taxable value for the year beginning Oct. 1 but said they intended to reduce it before final budget approval in September. The current tax rate is $5.35.
Homeowners would pay slightly more for garbage and trash collection — $228 for single-family homes (up $3) and $159 for apartments and condos (up $2).
The 3 percent employee pay increases would match what the unionized rank-and-file police officers will receive under their union contract approved in May. Commissioners had indicated earlier that they intended to match the increase.
Paying for Schenck’s “wish list” of computers, a bucket truck, a second police car, an ATV and a pay boost for non-unionized employees would tack another $200,000 onto the budget.
That would require increasing the tax rate from the current $5.35 or dipping further into the town’s $3 million in reserves to balance the budget.
At the July 24 budget workshop, Commissioner Ed Brookes asked for a more precise cost-benefit analysis of the proposed expenditures. “Put a little more detail into it so we can make a decision,” said Mayor Geoff Pugh.
Ridge Road resident Jerry Magruder complained that commissioners were ignoring more significant issues.
“I think we need a very vigilant Police Department. We don’t need computers. We don’t need cars. We need protection for the people,” she said.
She urged the town to station cameras on the town’s two bridges and north and south entrances to the town.
Magruder said she was the victim of a January break-in that caused $100,000 in property damage and $100,000 in lost jewelry.
“Everyone on my street has guns,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night. I am totally frightened.”
Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi disputed Magruder’s claim of four break-ins in the area, saying hers and an attempted burglary across the street were the only incidents since January 2012.
He said he could not verify the amount of damage or the value of the stolen jewelry.
Yannuzzi said the department is negotiating with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies in collaborating on a camera system that would read license tag numbers.
He said he hopes to share the $60,000 to $100,000 annual cost with other agencies, so the town would pay $20,000 to $30,000.
He emphasized the cameras were not surveillance cameras, but photograph license plates, allowing police to cooperate with other towns on stolen cars, wanted persons and the like.