Fla.town might do without deputies; Sheriff's office fee too high

By John Holland
The Sun-Sentinel
PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. Faced with a huge bill from the Broward Sheriff's Office and dwindling revenues, town leaders say they may have to trade the blue lights of deputies for the yellow lights of security guards.

During a 20-minute discussion at their monthly meeting, commissioners expressed dismay that the Broward Sheriff's Office wants to raise its fee next year by $1 million, to $2.6 million. On top of that, the Sheriff's Office is asking for as much as an additional $600,000 for this year even though the town has paid its current contract price in full, leaders said.

"This is insane," Commissioner Howard Clark said, summing up the feeling of his colleagues.

City Manager Bob Levy, Mayor Emma Shoaff and the commission all praised the Sheriff's Office, and particularly district Chief Chris McKinstry, for the quality of the service. But the town of a little more than 5,000 residents can't come close to paying the increase, especially when the state Legislature has recently cut property taxes, leaders said.

The town's total budget of more than $8 million could fall by about $1 million because of the new law, commissioners said.

So Levy wants to look at hiring a private security company. He mentioned Navarro Security, headed by former Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro, but the town would likely have to seek proposals before awarding a contract.

First, Levy wanted to see if commissioners were interested. They told him to explore all possibilities and report back. Any security firm would be responsible mainly for patrolling the streets and providing a presence, while the Sheriff's Office would be called in for serious crimes, Levy said.

"I'm just trying to find another way to skin a cat," Levy said. "There is no way we can afford to pay $2.6 million, we all agree on that. There's a lot of things to work out, [like] whether it's even legal."

Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Elliot Cohen said his department charges communities the exact cost of providing service and nothing more.

"This is not a profit-making venture for us. When we sign a contract, communities are getting dollar-for-dollar everything they ask for at cost," Cohen said.

"Obviously, it's going to be much cheaper to contract with us than for towns to start their own police forces, just based on economy of scale."

City commissioners instructed Levy to keep exploring options, although they specifically ruled out contacting Hollywood, the much-troubled agency that has seen five officers charged with corruption by the FBI in recent months.

The only thing that is certain, commissioners said, is Pembroke Park can't afford the price increase.

"If we pay what they want, we lose the town," Commissioner Georgina Cohen said. "I love BSO and all they do, but I'm not going to lose this town."

Copyright 2007 Sun-Sentinel Company

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