Wilton Manors Struggles to Afford its Police Department

Photo by JR Davis.

They’re starting to say the quiet part out loud. They’re not shouting it or declaring it a fait accompli. But they’re starting to nibble at the edges and think the unthinkable. Can Wilton Manors afford to keep its police department?

“We’re in a dilemma here,” Mayor Scott Newton said. “We [could] lose departments.”

“We could look at the police force and the service they provide and reduce those. Or, we can start looking at alternatives,” Commissioner Paul Rolli said.

Newton emphasizes he never mentioned losing the police department. Rolli never said the “alternatives” involved BSO taking over law enforcement. But the possibility is being talked about in coded and not-so-coded language.

The issue was front and center during a budget meeting for the city commission. Costs are going up across all city departments. Finance Director Nancy Muller detailed the biggest hits, including a 20% rise in healthcare. Building insurance, like most homeowner insurance, is going up. Maintenance and repairs are more expensive.

Those can be planned for. The police budget is a wildcard.

Departments across Broward County, including FLPD and BSO, are being raided by law enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County. The pay differential is stark; a difference of tens of thousands of dollars, depending on an officer’s experience. The cost of living is also cheaper.

For the third time in two years, the city and the union, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), are negotiating salaries. The city canceled a negotiation session because they are still trying to put a budget together and didn’t want to make a new offer yet.

Increasing pay, retention and signing bonuses, and seniority recognition will be expensive. There are 32 sworn officers, plus the Chief and Assistant Chief. The proposed budget would reduce that by two. No one would be laid off, as the force is already down about 11 officers and could lose another 11 over the next year. The positions would just be eliminated.

But, could the entire department be eliminated? Officers have been warning of the possibility for months. Now, the city commission is starting to hint at it.

Maintaining minimum staffing will be a struggle for months. Officers, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, tell the Gazette the city is in real danger of losing its force.

“We have to find some ways to solidify our police department, and one way is to put them in a [salary] range to stop the revolving door,” Newton said. But, that will cost money.

Rolli said all options are on the table. “I’m not in favor of increasing property taxes, but if that’s what we have to do to keep the police force, then that’s what we have to do.”

Time is not on the city’s side. They must set the property tax rate, or mil rate, by July 24. Initially, it will likely be higher than last year because once it’s set the rate can’t be raised but it can be lowered.

Newton may have summed it up best when he said, “It will be very, very difficult this year.”

RELATED

WMPD In ‘Crisis’ | Analysis

Crisis at WMPD: Officers Leave Due to Poor Pay and Benefits

Take Our Survey on the Future of the Wilton Manors Police Dept.

OutSFL

Phone: 954-514-7095
Hours: Monday - Friday 9AM - 2PM
Editorial@OutSFL.com
Sales@OutSFL.com

Calendar@outsfl.com

Corrections: editorial@outsfl.com

2520 N. Dixie Highway,
Wilton Manors, FL 33305

Navigate

GOT A TIP?

Got a juicy lead or story idea? Let us know!

GOT A TIP

   

Out South Florida

Hello from OutSFL! We hope you'll consider donating to us. Starting a business can be a scary prospect, but with your support so far, we've had tremendous success. Thank you!

donate button