MARINETTE - Marinette County is still awaiting word on the status of its application for a $285,349 grant to fund two programs to attack the area's escalating heroin and opiate problems.

Circuit Court Branch 2 Judge Jim Morrison told fellow members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on Friday morning he remains confident the county will be awarded the grant.

The county submitted an application on Oct. 17 for funds to finance Treatment Alternative and Diversion (TAD) and Drug Court programs.

Morrison told the committee the grant application still needs to be approved by the attorney general.

"I asked the other day and was told he hasn't been briefed yet because he's been doing other things," the judge explained. "They thought we would hear the first week in December.

"Maybe we'll hear next week. That's (the delay) OK. We want to get the right answer and we're very hopeful we'll get the right answer."

He said with the assumption the grant will be approved, "we've actually done some planning."

Morrison cautioned the training to get people into the programs could take six, seven or eight months.

"I know that's frustrating to hear," he said. "Everyone has said 'slow down, you have to do this right.' There's a lot of training that will be available."

He said "we're still on course where we want to go, but we haven't heard anything as of now."

County Administrator Ellen Sorensen, who serves as chair of the committee, said her office drafted a press release in mid-November that will go out immediately when the county is notified about the grant.

Morrison and her said they are unsure if the county will receive all the funds requested in the application.

Both explained that originally the county was going to apply for separate grants for the two programs, but were told by state officials to just seek one grant.

Morrison said the grant available to establish new drug courts does not require matching funds.

"There were two grants," Sorensen said. "There's a drug court grant and a TAD grant and we were going to do the two and we were told to write it as one.

"Now we're wishing we had done it as two. I'm not sure what is going to happen."

"We were prepared to do it as two, they told you guys not to do it as two," added Morrison. "It doesn't matter because they'll let you move the dollars around.

"The only issue is the drug court grant is for new drug courts and it has no match requirement. We'd like to get as much of that as we can."

Sorensen said the strength of the grant application is based on the possibility of a "scalable" drug court for the state's Eighth District.

"Even though our neighboring counties don't think they have a heroin problem, we suspect they do," she said.

"We've been told informally that our grant application is very strong," Morrison said. "Robin (Elsner, Health and Human Services director) did a very good job of putting it together. We're optimistic."

Morrison said he's asked often why Marinette County has such a "bad" drug problem and he answers that local law enforcement is "doing a spectacular job finding it."

"I say we have good cops, we're finding a lot more than others are finding," he said. "That's just a fact.

"I think between now and Christmas I have six or seven felony sentencings and I was looking at them the other day and I think in all but one of them drugs are involved. I think the other one is an OWI. So I guess drugs are involved in all of them."

He said the "good old-fashioned burglaries, they don't get to the radar screen anymore."

District Attorney Allen Brey, another member of the committee, said he's disappointed the grant application didn't call for additional resources for his office, as he had requested.

"Without additional resources I'm not going to be able to participate," he said. "Every DA I've talked to that has a program says two things: It's worthwhile and it takes more resources from your office to do it.

"At this time my office has no additional resources to give so we'll see what happens with the grant. I'm not like Jesus, I can't turn water into wine."

He said he doesn't have the resources to run his office now and that more than 170 people are waiting for him to review files.

"I know we need this, but my duty is to the victims first," Brey concluded.

Morrison assured the DA there will be flexibility in how the grant funds can be used.

"I think those are very legitimate concerns," he said. "We have to find a way to make this work.

"Everyone in law enforcement is working their tails off and there's no waste in this place at all. That's for sure."