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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Marinette County Seeks $23,740,000 In Federal Road Improvement Grants

Issue Date: February 23, 2022

If all goes well, and if grant applications are approved, some major improvements will be made to at least seven important segments of the extensive Marinette County Highway system between 2023 and 2026. After viewing a presentation by Highway Commissioner Eric Burmeister, all 22 of the supervisors present for the County Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 22, Marinette County Board voted in favor of a motion authorizing him to apply for funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Surface Transportation Program for seven projects on a total of 42.5 miles of road, that carry a total estimated total price tag of $23,740,000. If all the projects are approved and awarded, the federal share will be $18,922,000 and county share will be $4,748,000. Burmeister proposed projects throughout the county that would include portions of County Highways A, C, G, X, Y, O, and JJ.

Burmeister said there are three other projects he would like to get funded, but he needs to weigh the ramifications of applying on behalf of the county for money from related local and urban road work programs that cities and towns in the county may also be seeking. He will confer with city and town officials before reaching a decision. If there is an application for those projects the total could be improvements to 62.5 miles of county roads at a total estimated cost of $36,497,500, and a county share of about $7,299,500.

Marinette County will need to provide 20 percent matching funds toward the total cost of whatever projects are funded. If grants for all of the projects Burmeister suggested are approved, this could mean borrowing up to $8 million. In view of the rapidly increasing prices for road construction materials, that cost could go higher.

When asked, "Can we afford it?" County Administrator John LeFebvre said he would say yes, because nearly all the county's old debt is now paid off. Supervisors generally agreed with his comment that, "There's no way we can afford not to spend this money"We can't pass this up."

This is one-time Federal stimulus money, and no one knows if it will ever come again, Burmeister commented. State highway project grants generally require 50 percent of matching funds.

He said Wisconsin will be getting $1.3 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill in the next five years and rules for distributing it are still being written.

Supervisors who braved snowy roads to get to the meeting were Roger Allen, Al Sauld, Tricia Grebin, Cary Whiting, George Kloppenburg, Bob Hoyer, Penny Chaikowski, Stan Gruszynski, Ginger Deschane, Robert Holley, Glenn Broderick, Tom Mandli, Chris Gromala, Tom Gromala, Don Pazynski, Ken Keller, Gail Wanek, Paul Gustafson, Shirley Kaufman, Ted Sauve, Tom Mailand, Rick Polzin, and Board Chair John Guarisco. All voted in favor of the highway grant applications. Supervisors Mike Behnke, Paul Gustafson, Bonnie Popp, Connie Seefeldt, Tom Buelteman, Bill Stankevich, and Jillian Schutte were absent.

Burmeister had explained by state rules for the federal grant program, plans must be drawn by professionals and work must be done by letting bids to private contractors, not by county employees.

Grebin asked about the comparable price to do the proposed work without the restrictions of the state/federal grant program. Burmeister said the state is still setting the final rules. He said the cost to get it done with county crews would be less, but with the 80/20 match paying for for the work, hiring private contractors would be well worth the difference. He noted prices for construction materials have gone up sharply in recent months.

To a question from Sauve, Burmeister said there had been some discussion with the City of Marinette about re-doing County T with the city and county each providing 10 percent to make up the mandatory 20 percent local match.

Holley asked if they could add more blacktop to strengthen roads regularly traveled by the increasingly heavy farm equipment, and Burmeister agreed they should think about that, and also think about adding more base under the pavement.

He said there also will be some funding through the program to towns for town roads, but they also must meet the planning requirements and hire private contractors to do the work.

Before the vote, Deschane noted other counties throughout the state will be taking the same opportunities, and asked if there are enough construction contractors to actually get the work done within the time frame. She also recognized this is a huge amount of work for Burmeister and asked how County Board could help. Burmeister said he has already spoken with an engineering firm to help with the planning, and assured her he will ask for help if he needs it.

Supervisors present also unanimously supported an Administrative Committee resolution setting salaries for county officials whose terms will be filled in November, specifically the Sheriff and Clerk of Courts.

Total fiscal impact to the county for the four year terms, using current fringe benefits is $56,481.

The Clerk of Courts 2022 annual salary of $66,500 will be increased to $70,044 for 2023 and go up each year to $75,340 when the term ends in 2026, and the Sheriff salary of $95,050 for 2022 will increase to $97,425 for 2023 and go up each year to $104,940 when the term ends in 2026. Salaries of County Clerk, Register of Deeds and Treasurer are $68,372 for 2022 and will be $71,715 when those terms end in 2024.

The board was told LeFebvre has appointed Lt. Jeffrey Cate to represent Marinette City Police Department on the Local Emergency Planning Committee, and approved appointment of County Conservationist Sheri Denowski to the Lake Michigan Area Land and Water Conservation Association Board of Directors for a term expiring in April.

In the only split vote of the day, Sauld, Holley and Kaufman voted against a change in the policy that governs granting of unpaid leaves of absence to county employees. The change removes the parent committee from oversight, and Holley declared supervisors are abdicating their responsibilities and turning all decision making authority over to administration. Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison disagreed. She said Supervisors cannot be told the identity of employees who request medical leaves in any case, and said there was no reason for them to know who was granted or denied leave. She said the Human Resources director reports regularly to the Administrative Committee. After Holley attempted unsuccessfully to get the issue returned to committee the change that leaves elected officials out of the loop was approved.

At the start of the meeting, Guarisco asked for a moment of silent prayer for long-time Supervisor Al Mans, who passed away on Feb. 1.

Later in the meeting, Hoyer saluted Joe and Ashley Dudkiewicz for being named Outstanding Young Farmers of the Year at the National Young Farmers Awards Congress held Feb. 3 through 6 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Winners are selected on the basis of progress in an agricultural career, extent of soil and water conservation practices, and contributions to the well-being of the community, state and nation. As national winners, Joe and Ashley Dudkiewicz now will represent the NOYF at future agricultural events.

Theirs is a fourth generation farm that was started by Joe's great-grandfather in 1927, adjacent to the property on which the original family homestead was situated in 1896. The main farm is located just outside Crivitz on County A, but the couple raises row crops and cattle on over 1,500 acres with 32 different landlords in the area. Ashley handles the farm's bookkeeping and budgeting, fertilizer and planting prescriptions, and cattle management and marketing. They have started doing direct sales. Joe handles cattle operation and manages the farming, using no-till practices and nutrient branding. They have three children, Jeremy, Annabelle and Jameson, and Jeremy is already assigned regular chores on the farm.

Guarisco recognized Wausaukee High School student Madelyn Bales for winning first place in the American Legion Auxiliary national Poppy Poster contest that brought her recognition in the Badger Legionnaire magazine, and national attention as well.

During time for public comment, Steve Mellenthill, who identified himself as a professional chef, objected to the Marinette County Elderly Services decision to close the senior center meal site in Marinette and have meals prepared in Crivitz delivered to homes of senior citizens in Marinette. He felt food could not be kept at safe temperatures for that long without a drop in quality. He was seeking ways to get the Marinette meal site re-opened, but said all the grants to support the programs come through one agency, and the county funds for that go through Elderly Services.

After he spoke, Wendy Engle declared, "Not only do senior voices need to be heard, so do the children." Without giving specifics she said the county's Child Protective Services and the county administrator have broken many Wisconsin criminal statutes and indicated they may be going to court. "These people are not looking out for the best interests of our children," she declared.

Board rules prevent any interaction with the board or officials in regard to the public comments.

LeFebvre told the board about 50 members of the public participated in a recent candlelight hike at Goodman Park, and Supervisor Grebin was there with her family. LeFebvre felt very cold weather may have hindered participation.

County offices continue to be moved. LeFebvre said his office and that of the Corporation Counsel are now on the second floor of the original courthouse, and the Parks and Forestry office will soon be on the first floor, across from the new County Board room. Human Resources will move to the current Facilities/Parks/Forestry office on third floor, and the Register of Deeds/Probate office will move to the vacant Human Resources office on the first floor.

Eventually all court-related offices will be moved into the Annex, which will then be re-named the Judicial Center, and appropriate signs will be posted. The District Attorney offices will move to the Annex starting Monday, Feb. 28.

LeFebvre said by next year at this time they will be able to screen all visitors to the Judicial Center, and probably will have a sworn deputy doing that. He said security is a priority, and they are trying to keep everyone safe. For that reason, even in the courthouse they are trying not to meet with clients in their offices, but rather in public areas.

LeFebvre reminded supervisors that their terms on county board do not end until new the new terms begin on Tuesday, April 19, and asked everyone to continue attending committee meetings until then, even if they are defeated at the polls or did not seek re-election. He said the committee meetings before the April 19 meeting are important in smooth transfer to the next County Board terms.


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