By Tim O’Meilia
Ocean Ridge police will see a handsome difference in their paychecks under a new two-year contract approved by the Town Commission May 6.
The nine officers and four sergeants will receive an immediate 3 percent pay increase, a 3 percent cost-of-living increase in the new budget year beginning Oct. 1 and a 5 percent merit increase on their next anniversary date after that if they attain a satisfactory or better evaluation.
“I believe it’s fair. There hadn’t been an increase for quite a long time,” said Mayor Geoff Pugh. “We’ve been negotiating this for quite some months.”
Commissioners anticipated a pay increase last fall when they approved the annual town budget by including a 3 percent lump sum increase for all town employees, including the police.
The agreement, already ratified by the police bargaining unit, is the second contract negotiated by the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association since the town’s officers voted to unionize in 2011. Last year, the police received $1,000 lump sum increase.
“The town residents made it clear they wanted to keep their own Police Department and not go to the (Palm Beach County) Sheriff’s Office,” Pugh said. “We wanted to pay them a little more money to show our appreciation.”
Officers would have earned more as sheriff’s deputies if the town had decided to contract with the sheriff’s office.
“I would like to think (the wage increase) was a response to the overwhelming feeling from residents that the police department deserved a raise,” said Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi, who took part in the negotiations for the town. “I am proud and humbled by that.”
The wage increase was the only significant difference between the new contract and the original agreement. “They acquiesced on some things,” Pugh said. “Otherwise, negotiations could have gone on for many more months.”
In other business:
• Commissioners tentatively approved charging a $50 registration fee to property owners who rent their homes in residential areas. Condominiums and co-operatives would be exempt. The commission wants to discourage short-term rentals in residential districts. “People complain that there are strangers in their neighborhood,” said Commissioner Zoanne Hennigan. The registration system would not require owners to reveal the identity of the renter. “You want to know who your neighbors are,” said Commissioner Ed Brookes. The town code forbids rentals of less than 30 days in residential districts. The commission will consider final approval in June.
• In a related matter, the commission approved seeking an injunction to prevent Joseph and Karen Romano from renting their home at 6011 N. Ocean Blvd. for less than 30 days. The Romanos repeatedly have ignored the 30-day rule, renting the $2 million oceanfront estate for as much as $8,000 a week and erected wooden or concrete columns without a building permit, town officials say. Joseph Romano is serving 15 years in federal prison in New York on a business conspiracy conviction and has been charged with plotting to kill the judge and prosecutor in the case.
• The commission asked Town Manager Ken Schenck for options on the future of the town’s only commercial area, three blocks on A1A at the south end of town, other than a $15,000 planning study. The area is scheduled to be phased to residential use by June 2014. The owners of a five-store building at 5011 N. Ocean have postponed plans for townhomes because of the economic downturn. “What happens if you move them out and there’s nobody to move in?” Pugh said of the commercial strip.
• Commissioners took no action on a planning and zoning board recommendation to ban boats, trailers and recreational vehicles taller than 6 feet and to screen shorter ones from all sides, including backyards and across canals. Currently, 6-foot screening is required on the front and sides.
By Tim O’Meilia