OCEAN RIDGE, Fla. - UPDATE:
After hours of public comment and questioning about the possible law enforcement merger with PBSO, the Ocean Ridge Town Commission decided Tuesday night to postpone any vote until its next meeting, which is set for June 4th at 6 p.m.
The commission, at that point will vote to either go forward with building a plan for a merger or to scrap the plan all together. Commissioners and members of the public will have the opportunity to learn more about the proposal, its costs and its impacts before next month's meeting.
The Ocean Ridge Police Department has protected its community for decades and soon it could be history.
The town on Tuesday night will consider whether or not to merge law enforcement service with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
"On this side of the Intracoastal, what I call the moat, this side of the moat, the residents wave will all five fingers," said Ocean Ridge Chief Chris Yannuzzi.
Soon, Chief Yannuzzi and the rest of his 20-person department could be out of a job.
"My concern is the level of service. Are you going to be able to provide the same level of service? Not to mention, you're cutting the number of people patrolling the roads," said Yannuzzi.
The 20-person staff would shrink to 11 under the PBSO two-year proposal. Having fewer people would save Ocean Ridge about $600,000 a year, shrinking its current $ 1.7 million budget to $1,145,450.
"If you break it up on an individual basis, it's not that big of savings. But overall in our budget, it's almost three-quarters of a mill, so that's quite a bit," said Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck.
Merging forces is a growing trend in the county. In the last ten years, PBSO said it has merged with eight different municipalities. PBSO could add two more with both Boynton Beach and Ocean Ridge now debating the idea.
"Look, the bottom line is, all the cities that we've taken over, the service have been significantly better and we think we could do the same thing here," said Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Residents of Ocean Ridge are torn.
Some like the Ocean Ridge Police because it feel like officers connect with the community better.
"Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, is good but it's just too big. The county is getting too big," said Bob Brechtel, an Ocean Ridge resident.
Others said they could understand the merger, especially in the tough economy.
"In my opinion they probably have too many officers for what they have to cover," said Edward Bankos, an Ocean Ridge resident.
Chief Yannuzzi said regardless of what is decided, his main concern will be employment for his officers.