MARINETTE — A proposal to establish a second Marinette County sheriff’s deputy recreation officer and eliminate two Forestry and Parks Department forest patrol positions moved within one step of reaching the full county board Wednesday morning.

The county board’s Infrastructure Committee voted 5-1, with Supervisor Gilbert Engel dissenting, to recommend the Administrative Committee, which meets Aug. 15, support the creation of a second recreation patrol deputy and the elimination of two forest patrol officers, effective Jan. 2, 2020.

A proposal to amend the resolution calling for one of the parttime forestry patrol officer positions to be retained for up to 600 hours a year failed to win approval because of a 3-3 deadlock.

Proponents of establishing the second recreational patrol officer and eliminating the two forest patrol officers said they favored those moves for security reasons. Opponents of eliminating the forest patrol officer positions said they feared the recreation patrol officers would not assume some of their duties.

County Administrator John Lefebvre said the Public Services Committee voted Tuesday to recommend to the Infrastructure Committee support the establishment of a second sheriff’s deputy recreation patrol officer.

“The reason I think they supported the rec position is there was a lot of discussion about safety of these forest patrol people who are going out in the woods and and trying to enforce the county (Forestry and Parks) ordinance,” he said. “They are not law enforcement officers who are fully equipped although one of them was a law enforcement officer many years ago. They don’t have the equipment and they don’t have the authority to stop anybody.”

Supervisors Al Sauld and Engel said they weren’t confident the recreation officers would have time to carry out some of the currently duties of the forestry patrol officers who “basically uphold and enforce the county ordinance and check timber sales and permits,” according to Forestry and Parks Administrator Pete Villas.

Lefebvre said establishing the second recreation patrol officer would only cost the county about $5,000 more than it pays the two forestry patrol officers because the DNR will provide 75 percent of the funds for the position.

Villas said the two forest patrol officers work on weekends from late spring through fall and the one who has more hours works one day during the week. Adding the second sheriff’s deputy recreation patrol position would enable 7-day-a-week recreation patrol coverage, according to the justification statement for it.

Sauld, Engel and Al Mans, committee chairperson, all expressed apprehension about eliminating the two forestry patrol positions and whether the recreation patrol officers would help resolve current problems in the forests such as dumping garbage and illegal cutting of trees.

“We need people to protect the resources that we have, which is the forests,” Engel said. “I am going to oppose this.”

“I very much see the need for another recreation patrol deputy,” Mans said. “But I do see the need for our forest patrol guys.”

Engel and Sauld said they believe the proposal might be a reaction to recent complaints about ATV users.

“If that is the crux of this, then I think the ATVers should fund (the second recreation patrol) position,” Engel said. 

“That’s not the case, Gilbert,” said Lefebvre, who explained that when the establishment of the first recreation patrol officer that begun in January was discussed last year, Sheriff Jerry Sauve, Villas and himself had conversations about doing away with the forest patrol positions.

“I decided with the sheriff that we weren’t going to do this,” he recalled. “We wanted a recreation patrol officer to be in place. We wanted him or her to prove their worth to the county before we ever proposed removing two positions in the county that are doing something for us. We’ve now evaluated what the recreation officer has done and I think the sheriff  believes that the recreation patrol officers can pick up the slack for these two positions.”

“There’s been nobody caught (for violations), there’s been no citations for dumping, there been no citations issued for tree stands and no citations for theft of timber in the county forests,” Lefebvre said. “So what are these two people doing for us?”

Mans said the two forest patrol officers were interviewed to find out why they were not issuing citations and they said they would rather educate people than give them tickets.

“My biggest concern with the forest patrol officers is safety,” Villas said. “What happens if one of those guys gets hurt? That’s a huge concern of mine.”

Villas said the current sheriff’s deputy recreation patrol officer is checking timber sales and “not just riding out on a boat or sitting on an ATV.”

“I like the idea because they (rec patrol officers) have the authority to stop these people,” said Supervisor Shirley Kaufman. “There are a lot of goofy people around. I support this as long as these persons (recreation patrol officers) do the same jobs that these (forest patrol officers) do.”

Villas said the two forest patrol officers work approximately 1,000 hours a year, starting in the spring and working into the fall.

Lefebvre said the the forest patrol officers cost the county about $24,000 a year and that the second recreation patrol officer would only cost between $29,000 and $30,000 because of a 75 percent grant from the DNR.

Sauld proposed retaining one of the forest patrol officers saying that he feared the county would “lose a lot of control over our forests.”

“What about putting this (proposal) in place and evaluate it in after six months or a year?” Lefebvre suggested. 

“Another rec officer, especially for a county of this size, is absolutely necessary,” Villas said. “Safety has been a concern of mine for years and I don’t want it to become a problem under my watch.”

“I’m obviously not in favor of keeping those positions because I have concerns about the safety of those positions,” Lefebvre said. “I wouldn’t want to be in their position of confronting individuals in county forestlands who could potentially have a gun in their car or on their person.”