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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board Assigns Parks Duties To Facilities Maintenance Department

Issue Date: August 30, 2019

Major changes affecting three departments were approved by Marinette County Board at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27. Effective Jan. 2, the Maintenance and Facilities Department will become a Facilities and Parks Department (apparently with outdoor recreation responsibilities as well), the Forestry, Parks and Outdoor Recreation Department will again become a stand-alone Forestry Department, and the Sheriff's Department will gain a second Recreation Patrol Deputy.

All the changes had been recommended by County Administrator John LeFebvre and recommended for approval by the County Board's Administrative Committee. Another recommendation, to eliminate two part-time Forest Patrol positions in exchange for the additional Recreational Patrol Officer, was sent back to the Infrastructure Committee for additional information and discussion.

Votes on the measures came after considerable debate on the board floor and several split votes. Creation of the added Recreation Patrol Deputy had been tied to elimination of the part-time Forest Patrol positions, but the issues were separated before coming up for a vote.

First motion on the related issues was the recommendation to designate the current Maintenance and Facilities Department as the Facilities and Parks Department, effective on Jan. 2. That would leave Forestry as a stand-alone department as it had been until the two were merged about a decade and a half ago.

As part of the merger, a new person will be hired as assistant department head to serve under current Facilities Director Marty Keyport, but the chief duties of the position will be related to parks and recreation responsibilities.

Supervisor Bonnie Popp urged holding off for three weeks until the board gets the results of the Economic Development study being done by Bay Lakes Regional Planning Commission. That report is slated for the next County Board meeting, set for Tuesday, Sept. 17.

"To me, Parks are a big part of tourism," Popp declared. "My preference would be to delay this vote for three weeks and hear that report before I make a decision. Maybe there should be a Parks and Tourism Department."

LeFebvre said he did not believe the Bay Lakes report would have anything to do with administration of the two departments. He said based on questions they have been asking, the Bay Lakes Consultants are looking at all the entities that work on promotion of the county, not at administration of county departments.

"This move is largely for the physical aspect of the parks...maintenance of the buildings and grounds," commented Supervisor John Guarisco.

Supervisor Gilbert Engel, who served on the Infrastructure Committee that oversees all three departments, commented there seems to b a disconnect between the job description for the Assistant Facilities and Parks Director and the qualifications being sought in the person who will fill it. He and others wondered if a single person could be found with all of the required background and knowledge.

LeFebvre, defending his recommendation, said he had been seeking something that would benefit all three departments - Parks, Forestry and Facilities Maintenance.

He said there is no one working as a second in command to the Facilities Director and as a result, when people left that position in the past there was no backup person with a good understanding of the entire Facilities Management picture. The person hired to fill the new position will be expected to work with Keyport and serve as someone to whom he will pass along knowledge of projects in progress, issues with the various buildings, etc.

LeFebvre said he has been told the Forestry Department could do more forest management if they had more foresters. Removing the Parks responsibilities would return department head Pete Villas to do full time forestry work with assistant Forest Administrator Marcus Isaacson, and Forestry is Vilas' field of expertise.

LeFebvre said he also has had the nine part time parks caretakers work 10 months this year instead of nine. However, the county is self-insured when it comes to unemployment, so the county continues to pay during the two months that they are laid off and doing no work for the county while there is plenty of wok to be done. At the same time, these employees have a one-month gap in their health insurance coverage and the county pays one month of coverage when they are not working. Cost of making these positions full time would be minimal and there is plenty of work for them to do, LeFebvre said. While some work could be done in the parks during winter months, some days there would have to be indoor work only.

Popp said recreation is the other part of Parks duties and repeated that she could not support the change until after the Bay Lakes report.

Supervisor Clancy Whiting suggested delaying until September would give LeFebvre problems with the timeline for approval of the 2020 budget.

Supervisor Tricia Grebin noted the job description says the assistant Facilities and Parks Director will be expected to seek grants and prepare a recreation plan and expressed doubt a person who in trained in those fields would also have knowledge of mechanical operations like heating, plumbing and equipment maintenance.

Popp agreed, and said a person who has the skills to operate equipment and do maintenance most likely does not have a marketing degree, and declared, "It makes no sense to me." She eventually cast the sole vote against merging the Parks responsibilities with the Facilities Management Department. Supervisor Penny Chaikowski was absent and the remaining 29 supervisors voted in favor.

LeFebvre commented the person hired may not be skilled at running equipment or doing maintenance chores, but they have parks caretakers to do the physical work and need someone to do the necessary planning and promoting. "I believe we will find a person capable of doing that, and it's more than we have now," he declared.

Supervisor Shirley Kaufman eventually cast the sole vote against creation of the Assistant Facilities and Parks Director position as described. Creation of the Assistant Facilities and Parks Director will add $85,988 to the annual budget but there will be savings elsewhere.

The board easily approved a motion creating a Forestry Equipment Operator Position and eliminating a vacant Forestry Foreman position effective immediately. Rationale is that removing Parks responsibilities will provide more time for the Forest Administrator to focus on forestry related matters, and allow the Assistant Forestry Administrator to take on Forestry Foreman duties. That change would result in a savings of $8,999 for next year.

They then moved on to the final action proposed for the day - creating a second recreation patrol deputy position in the sheriff's department and eliminating the two existing part time Forest Patrol positions in the Forestry and Parks Department, effective Jan. 2.

Impact of this change, if the state again finances 70 percent of the Recreation Patrol Officer expenses, would be a savings of $5,114. Costs associated with the Forest Patrol people is $10,796 for one and $13,789 for the other. Keeping the two positions and adding the recreation patrol officer would add nearly $30,000 to the county budget.

Engel, who had served on the Forestry and Parks Committee for several years before it became the Infrastructure Committee, noted those two positions patrol 235,000 acres of county forest. They look for things like timber theft and illegal camping in the forest, and also help collect garbage scattered there he moved to refer the proposal back to the Infrastructure Committee.

Supervisor George Kloppenberg declared he favored creating the second recreation officer post, "but not getting rid of the forest patrol."

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison commented they have a motion to refer back to committee without a reason to do so.

Engel said he also had no problem with adding the recreation patrol officer, but felt their committee needed more information on what work will not be done if the Forest Patrol posts are gone. He had no problem with splitting the question.

Supervisor John Guarisco commented one reason for the Administrative Committee to eliminate the patrol positions is that they are not trained law officers, cannot issue citations, and do not carry weapons. Supervisor Don Pazynski agreed.

Supervisor Al Mans, who has served many years on the Forestry and parks Committee and now chairs the Infrastructure Committee, said they would like the issue to come back to them so they can discus the implications. He said they are only talking about $14,000 a year for the two individuals, and they work on weekends and do many things besides just patrol. "Over the years they've done a tremendous job," he declared.

LeFebvre said keeping those posts will add $25,000 that could be put toward the recreation patrol officer cost, and said he had a concern for the Forest Patrol officers from a safety standpoint. "You don't know what they might encounter in the woods, " he declared. He said with the Sheriff's Department patrol officers, dispatch knows exactly where they are at all times, and they are armed and have all the necessary equipment and training.

Supervisor Robert Holley said he had been in favor of eliminating the posts until he talked with supervisors from the north, and said he now agrees with Gilbert that they should send it back to the Infrastructure Committee.

Supervisor Al Sauld, another veteran member of the Forestry and Parks Committee and it is successor Infrastructure Committee, also urged that it be sent back. He said he spends a great deal of time in the County Forest and runs into the Forest Patrol guys lot. He said for example they stop a lot of firewood poaching, and pick up garbage when and where they find it. He did not believe a recreation patrol deputy would do that. As to safety issues, he declared they have been on the job for 20 years without an incident, and there are safety issues in any job. He moved to split the vote and send the Forest Patrol portion back to committee.

That motion passed, 20 to nine, on a roll call vote. Those who opposed were supervisors Tricia Grebin, Ken Keller, Tom Mailand, Rick Polzin, Glenn Broderick, Ted Sauve, Vilas Schroeder, David Zahn and Board Chair Mark Anderson.

LeFebvre cautioned that keeping the forest patrol and adding the recreation officer will add about $30,000 a year to county expenses.

Schroeder commented it's easy to say they need the second patrol officer, "but we need to look at where the money will come from."

That said, motion to create the second Recreation Patrol Deputy post passed without dissent.

Debate then began on sending the two forest patrol jobs back to committee for more information. LeFebvre said if the motion was approved "there's no requirement that it ever come back to this board.

Engel felt the committee might want to do a presentation for the board on just what those people do.

Guarisco said since the recommendation to eliminate had come from the Administrative Committee it should go back to them.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison said is should go to the committee of jurisdiction, which in this case would b Infrastructure.

"We will send it back to this County Board with a recommendation one way or the other," pledged Mans, speaking as Infrastructure committee chair.

Mattison said she must reluctantly advise him that a committee chair should not make promises for his committee.

Mans declared the people on his Infrastructure Committee "are all good people and I'm sure they'll make a wise decision."

Mattison at one point in the discussion said proposals to eliminate posts must come from the parent committee, while recommendations to create them must go through the Administrative Committee.

Vote was 7 to 12 in favor of sending it back to committee. Supervisors opposed were Anderson, Mike Behnke, Broderick, Laura Frea, Chris Gromala, Guarisco, Keller, Pazynski, Rick Polzin, Sauve, Schroeder, Bill Stankevich and Zahn.


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