MARINETTE —  The Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday took action that could lead to the county parks system being transitioned from the Forestry and Parks Department to the Maintenance and Facilities Department if its recommendations are approved by the Administration Committee and the full County Board of Supervisors later this month.

The committee voted 5-1 to recommend to the Administrative Committee that the current Maintenance and Facilities Department becomes the Facilities and Parks Department effective Jan. 2, 2020. The committee also voted 5-1 to recommend to the Administrative Committee the creation of an assistant facilities and parks director position, also effective Jan. 2.

“We will take and create a Facilities and Parks Department and then we will have a separate Forestry Department,” explained County Administrator John Lefebvre. “The negative I can see about this is that it is going to cost the county more money to create a new position.

“I see a number of positive things,” he added. “The maintenance of all county facilities will be under one department. It provides a number of greater opportunities.”

Lefebvre said one of those opportunities will be to utilize the parks caretakers in the off-season: They are currently laid off for two months, to do work on county facilities.

“Our parks caretakers right now are on a 10-month work schedule,” he said. “It has always been the intent to put them on a 12-month schedule,”

Lefebvre said he has discussed with Forestry and Parks Administrator Pete Villas and members of his staff, including the nine parks caretakers, the potential of moving the caretakers into a 12-month schedule.

“For the most part they were receptive to it,” he said. “I didn’t hear anybody necessarily opposed to it. It isn’t that we don’t have the work to keep them busy for 12 months, we don’t have the work that is confined to a heated building that we can keep them working. So we’re doing this through the courthouse.”

Lefebvre said another positive of his plan to absorb the parks into oversight of the Maintenance and Facilities Department is the opportunity to hire an employee with education and experience related to managing a parks system to serve as assistant facilities and parks director.

“That would have a positive effect on both facilities and parks,” he said. “There’s no doubt that one of the reasons we can only put so many things on the plate and get done is we just don’t have the staff when it comes to facilities.”

Lefebvre said office space is already available for the new position, as the Forestry and Parks Department is already based at the courthouse.

He said another positive of the plan endorsed by the Infrastructure Committee would enable Villas and his assistants to focus on forestry on a full-time basis.

“You said it might cost the county a little more money,” said Supervisor Al Mans, chairperson of the committee. “But there’s going to be a payback here just from the fact that we could have more timber sales.”

“I would hope so,” said Lefebvre, who added that the move of the Parks to the Facilities Department would enable the county to be proactive on facilities maintenance so it would cost much less in the long run.

“The county forest is constantly growing, the work is there,” Villas said. “This will give us a chance to really zero in on forestry.”

Supervisor David Zahn said he didn’t want outdoor recreation to get lost in the change of oversight of the parks. Lefebvre said Forestry would continue to be responsible for ATV and bike trails on county land.

Facilities Director Marty Keyport voiced support for the plan endorsed by the Infrastructure Committee, saying it would enable the county to be more proactive with projects instead of reactive.

“We have been in a mode of waiting until it fails, and then now what do we do because nobody had time to look at the 5-year or 10-year plan,” he said. “I’m still reacting to what was going on when I got here 3 1/2 years ago.

“With some help, I can spend a little more time working on the bigger picture instead of the shorter-range picture to what is going on with the county.”

Lefebvre explained why he’s proposing the changes recommended by the committee not take effect until Jan. 2 of next year. 

“I want to get those things in the budget for 2020,” he said. “If  they were to be effective immediately, I would have to make arrangements to get money into the (2019) budget.

“We need this six-month period of time to do the planning to make the transition somewhat smoother. As soon as this is approved, we’ll work in that direction to make this happen.”

The Administrative Committee will meet next Thursday with the full county board scheduled to meet Aug. 27.

“We will advertise (for this position) as soon the budget is approved and we know these things are in the budget,” Lefebvre said. “We’ll advertise for the position around the end of October and first part of November.”

Supervisor Shirley Kaufman voted against both of the recommendations made by the committee.

“I didn’t like what we did before when we moved Forestry and Parks to the courthouse (from the Highway Department in Peshtigo),” she said. “I just don’t like all these moves going on and I want to make that clear. You have to prove to me that this is going to be effective.”