The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office plans to pull deputies out of Loxahatchee Groves in October 2019, leaving the town to figure out its own arrangements for patrolling and protecting. However, town leaders hope they can negotiate an agreement with PBSO.
"Paying for law enforcement in Loxahatchee Groves to me is a good idea. Having our own police department out here is a terrible one," said Frank Schiola, who lives in Loxahatchee Groves.
On October 1, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw sent a letter to the town of Loxahatchee Groves, saying in part: "...this letter shall serve as written notice of termination of Law Enforcement Services to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves, effective October 1, 2019. As such, the Town should begin planning its transition to a Town Police Department, or make whatever other arrangements as are necessary to provide law enforcement for the Town."
Loxahatchee Groves currently pays more than $600,000 for 24-hour PBSO coverage within the town. The cost to the town doubled in recent years because the sheriff began dedicating five officers to stay within the town itself.
"Sustaining the high level of service the Sheriff provides the town is not financially sustainable," said Todd McLendon, a council member, but said he is speaking only for himself. "Loxahatchee Groves has lower property values as compared to surrounding municipalities. Many of our residents have limited incomes and we are spreading their tax dollars very thin. Our current contract with the Sheriff cost every man, woman, and child close to $200 per year in our town. This price is causing an undue hardship for Loxahatchee Groves residents."
“They do things well. They do it better. They have more resources," said Joyce Batcheler, a council member. "I don’t think that anything that the town could put together would be better than what the sheriff’s office offers us.”
The conflict started on July 17, when the town council members voted down a requested two percent increase for PBSO services for October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019, saying they received that request a month late and some believe it’s too costly for their budget already.
“Because he was late in getting it out, the council thought perhaps it was a negotiating tool to perhaps get the price a little lower," Batcheler said. "That was not a good idea on our part, just saying.”
“Not to accept that two percent, that kind of started it. Hindsight is 20/20," said Mayor David Browning. "I wish we had approved it then. Maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now.”
On July 20, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw sent the town a letter asking the council to approve the sheriff's cost proposal for October 2018-2019 or the agreement would not be renewed.
Following that, upon a second vote, the town council approved the two percent increase.
"We had approved it and I thought, well, we’re back on track, so when we got this letter, it was a little bit of a surprise," Browning said.
However, this week, the town received a letter saying the sheriff is terminating the agreement, as of October 1, 2019.
“I’ve got tremendous respect," Browning said. "I know in the past there was a little frustration, comments made, myself included that we really didn’t mean. It was frustrating. I would hate to lose them.”
Browning worries about the town trying to put together its own police department with already limited financial resources.
"To start the process of starting our own police department is not something I would look forward to," he said.
He hopes to meet with Sheriff Bradshaw, along with the town manager and town attorney, before the end of October to resolve this.
"I really don’t want to lose them," he said. "My hope is that we’re able to find something that we can negotiate that we can keep them on."
"Fortunately, we are a very low crime rate area and our residents watch out for one another. Because of this, I feel we do not need the level of coverage our current contract provides," McLendon said. "I can only ask for Ric Bradshaw to help us come to an agreement as a team for the mutual benefit to our residents of Loxahatchee Groves as well as the Palm Beach County Sheriff Department."
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw was unavailable for comment Friday, but PBSO sent the following statement: "Loxahatchee Groves has indicated that they are not satisfied with the level of service they are receiving from the Sheriff’s Office and that the cost of the service is too expensive. Given that position by Loxahatchee Groves, the Sheriff’s Office has decided to give them the opportunity to form their own Law Enforcement Agency during the next year, (12 Months), and will assist them in doing so. In the meantime there is no change is any level of service, the present contract remains in effect, but the Sheriff’s Office will not renew the contract with them as of Oct. 1, 2019. The Sheriff’s Office will always be available to assist the residents of Loxahatchee Groves, even after the formation of their own Agency."