By Larry Barszewski

A new police contract approved by Manalapan commissioners July 25 includes 7% annual pay raises for the next three years, lifting the starting salary for new hires to $65,000, and giving officers a $200-a-month gas allowance.

Commissioners also decided to add two new officer positions to the department to beef up overnight patrols, so that patrol coverage can continue even if two officers are tied up with an arrest or other stop.

The changes are on top of the renovation of the town’s police headquarters, which was completed in July.

“I think we’re spoiling our Police Department as we should. They’ve got a big increase and huge benefits, and now they have a new headquarters,” Mayor Stewart Satter said at the meeting.

“Our goal in offering the enhanced compensation and benefits is to take care of those who take care of us every day,” Satter said in a follow-up email to The Coastal Star, “and to help Manalapan retain our trained and experienced police officers in what is a very competitive employment environment.”

The department, which has struggled to fill vacancies over the past several years, was fully staffed as of June 30, Police Chief Carmen Mattox said. The number of sworn officers will increase to 10 as of Oct. 1.

The additional officers came at Satter’s suggestion during a July 24 budget workshop. He was concerned because there is one officer each on the beach side and on The Point overnight, but one helps out the other if the situation calls for it. The extra positions will ensure coverage continues while the two are tied up.

Police won’t be the only ones getting 7% pay raises this year, as the budget includes a matching 7% salary boost for all town employees.

To pay for the salary increases and other budget priorities in the coming year, the commission approved a not-to-exceed proposed property tax rate of $3 for every $1,000 of taxable value, the same as last year. That rate is considered a property tax increase even though it’s not changing, because of rising property values of 15% in town this year. The $3 per $1,000 tax rate is expected to raise $6.28 million in property taxes, which is about $740,000 more than last year, or a 13.3% increase.

The proposed rate can still be lowered, but not raised, during public hearings on the budget and tax rate scheduled for Sept. 18 and 25.

Town Manager Linda Stumpf has proposed a $7.3 million operating budget — an increase of 8.3% from the current budget — and $650,396 for capital and infrastructure projects.

The proposed tax rate means a home assessed at $1 million last year, which receives a homestead exemption, will pay about $90 more in town taxes this year. A similarly valued non-homesteaded property will see about a $300 increase.

The budget includes $2 million to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue for fire rescue services, a 13.7% increase of $245,000.

The biggest unknowns are for property and liability insurance. Stumpf’s budget includes a 40% premium increase, though she has been advised the increase could be as high as 60%. The actual renewal costs aren’t expected until late August, Stumpf said.

Home construction extension granted

Commissioners were upset that an Ocean Boulevard home under construction for four years still isn’t finished.

A building permit was pulled in 2018 and construction began in 2019 on the property at 1460 S. Ocean Blvd. The property was purchased for $12.4 million in 2017 and the new unfinished home is now on the market for $79.5 million.

Attorney David Miller, representing property owner 1460 South Ocean Boulevard LLC, requested a building permit extension until February 2024 — but then told commissioners he would prefer a year’s extension “out of an abundance of caution.”

He blamed Florida Power & Light for the delay in Coastal Construction’s finishing the project.

“They’ve been unable to get permanent power. Coastal has been emailing FPL for almost three years about the transformer permanent power hookup. Still haven’t been able to get a commitment from FPL,” Miller said. “Apparently, the power for this house got reassigned to I believe four or five different individuals by FPL over the course of the last 21/2 years, which I think is a large part of what the holdup was.”

But Satter didn’t buy that argument.

“This is taking way too long. It has nothing to do with FPL, with all due respect,” Satter said. “I have no interest to extend the permit for eight months. It’s not fair to the neighbors.”
Commissioners, seeing few alternatives, approved a shorter permit extension to Dec. 26, but placed a number of conditions on the extension. Those conditions include having better screening on the north side of the property, placement of additional fresh rock and grass to reduce the amount of sand blowing from the construction site, and painting the front of the house to make the property look more finished.

The first two permits cost the owner almost $462,000. The new permit extension fee is $83,161.53.

Despite the new deadline, Satter predicted the owner would be back seeking yet another extension.

In other business:

• Stumpf reported that the town’s iguana removal efforts, which began in June, are having an effect. She said 50 iguanas have been removed from public property so far by the hired company.

• The town has revamped its water utility billing and residents should see the difference on the latest bills. The new system gives residents the ability to pay their bills online. It also makes it easier for properties with multiple meters. Instead of receiving separate bills, as in the past, those residents will now have all their meters listed under one account.

• The commission approved a $96,544.82 contract with The Paving Lady for the construction of a new landscaped island in the Land’s End Road cul-de-sac. It was the only bid received for the project.

“While the unit prices are higher than we would normally anticipate, because this is a smaller project adjacent to valuable property with exceptional finishes, it is understandable that the costs are higher than average,” reported Thomas Biggs of consultant Mock Roos & Associates, which reviewed the bid and is being paid up to $10,000 by the town for construction oversight.

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