MARINETTE — A proposal for Marinette County to create a second sheriff’s deputy recreation patrol officer and eliminate two Forestry and Parks Department forest patrol positions cleared one hurdle Tuesday and will face another one today.

The Public Services Committee voted 5-1, with Supervisor George Kloppenburg dissenting, to recommend the Infrastructure Committee, which meets this morning, to support the proposal to create the recreation patrol officer, effective Jan. 2, 2020. 

The current recreation patrol officer has been serving since Jan. 1 of this year. Half of the cost of his salary and fringe benefits are being covered by the Department of Natural Resources. He also is available to assist at other major incidents, Sheriff Jerry Sauve has stressed.

“We believe that we need a second recreation patrol officer,” said County Administrator John Lefebvre. “This is unique since it’s sort of entwining two departments somewhat together. When we first talked about the first recreational patrol officer, the sheriff and I and Pete Villas (administrator of the Forestry and Parks Department) had some conversations about how the rec officer would work with our forest patrol.”

He explained that the current parttime forest patrol officers patrol the forests and primarily look for things like illegal dumping, misuse of ATVs, people cutting trees down to use for deer stands and people putting up and leaving deer stands.

“So we decided not to to tie the first request for a rec officer to any other position,” Lefebvre said. “So we hired a rec officer to see how that rec officer performed and how it worked. What ultimately happened is I’m very pleased with the rec officer and I think the sheriff and others are as well.”

Lefebvre said “we really need to look at trying to get another rec officer in place. What I would suggest is that we would ultimately eliminate the two parttime forest patrol people, in essence saving us some money and utilize the money to put toward the rec officer.”

“We’re talking about (an additional) $5,000 or $6,000 (for the salary),” he said. “There’s also obviously a cost of outfitting another rec officer.”

The justification statement to create the new position and eliminate two others stressed that the two forestry patrol officers only work through the summer and fall and only have the authority to write citations for violations of the County Forestry and Parks Ordinance.

“The county forestry patrol officers have little to no authority to stop vehicles and lack the adequate personal protection if confronting a potential violator if things ever go bad,” the statement says. “Having a trained and equipped law enforcement officer enforcing the various rules and regulations is highly preferred.”

“The bottom line is we’re sending these two forest patrol officers that we have out there to (possibly) confront people who are violating on county land and I’m thinking from a safety standpoint that that’s probably not the best thing we should be doing in this day and age,” Lefebvre said. “I really think putting an officer who has a radio, protective equipment and backup when needed who is better suit for confronting people who are violating makes more sense.”

The justification statement stressed that the current sheriff’s deputy recreation officer is only available to work four days out of a week and every other weekend.

“The addition of a second sheriff’s deputy position assigned to recreation would allow for 7-day-a-week coverage,” the statement goes on to say. “The sheriff’s deputies assigned to recreation patrol in addition to carrying out their recreation patrol responsibilities are also available to respond to other non-recreation related incidents on an as-needed basis.”

Lefebvre said the reason he wanted the Public Services Committee to make a recommendation to the Infrastructure Committee is that that committee oversees the Forestry and Parks Department that would be affected by the cuts of two positions.

“If Infrastructure turns it down, we’ll go back to the drawing board and ask ‘do we still need this rec officer and do you want to pay the additional $30,000 to $40,000 that we would have to pay to put that officer in place?’” he said. 

Sauve emphasized that having a recreation officer has reduced overtime in his department and said when there wasn’t a recreational officer “we weren’t meeting our needs out there. We had the complaints and problem areas and we weren’t getting there when we should.”

Supervisor Ken Keller, committee chairperson, said when the first sheriff’s deputy recreation patrol officer position was created, it was mentioned that a second recreation patrol officer might be needed.

“We did,” the sheriff recalled. “The DNR officials got wind of this coming on the agenda and they’re very supportive of it. The work is there, I think we’ve proven that in this county the need is there. The DNR is very supportive of his and it’s funding a large part of the salary. I think it would be a good move.”

Supervisor Gina Deschane asked if the two forest patrol officers would be “absorbed somewhere else or are they just getting laid off?”

Lefebvre explained that the two forestry patrol officers get laid off every year and just would not be called back if their jobs were cut. He said one of them is retired and that the other also has a fulltime job.

Kloppenburg said he’s concerned that the rec patrol officers wouldn’t perform some of the duties currently being done by the forest patrol officers such as picking up trash and taking down deer stands.

“We have other plans for picking up trash on county lands,” Lefebvre said. “It’s going to have to be done in a different method and I don’t see that as problem. It has to be done. They’re not picking all the trash up on county lands.”

He explained that the forest patrol officers are currently trying to do what they can to halt the growth of new trash sites.

Deschane said she is concerned about the safety risks that the current forest patrol officers face.

“Those guys are out there without the equipment  (to protect themselves) and you’re confronting a hunter who is violating and he’s got a gun,” she said. “That’s kind of scary.”

“That’s been a concern about that I have discussed that concern,” Sauve said. “We would be moving to certify law enforcement officers in a wide range of enforcement ability. Right now if you look at the what the present (forest patrol) people can enforce it’s kind of narrow.”