MARINETTE — During its Tuesday meeting, the Marinette City Council approved the Marinette Police Department’s request to apply for a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) grant for funding to purchase the department a BearCat tactical vehicle, despite some questions about whether to solicit financial help from other municipalities. 

The city’s Finance & Insurance Committee recommended approval of the grant application to the council following a presentation on the city’s tactical response unit (TRU) in its June 18 meeting, during which Lt. Joe Nault with the Marinette Police Department asked the city to budget for the purchase of a BearCat tactical vehicle in 2020. Nault explained that in 2018, TRU added a rescue task force (RTF) to its membership, which provides first aid and recovery for citizens and potential suspects involved in TRU deployment instances, and purchasing a refurbished BearCat armored tactical vehicle would benefit both the TRU and the RTF. The current response vehicle for teams is a 10-year-old unarmored van. Nault said there is a USDA grant of up to $55,000 to be put toward a BearCat that he would like to apply for this year, provided the city could promise to match funds for the vehicle’s purchase. 

During the City Council’s discussion of the grant application Tuesday, Alderperson-at-large Dorothy Kowalski said she was in favor of the application but felt the city should contact Marinette County about a potential partnership for the vehicle’s upkeep. This proposal was also discussed at the committee level — however, one of the USDA grant’s stipulations is that the BearCat be purchased by a municipality of 30,000 people or less, and officially partnering with the county would make the City of Marinette ineligible. 

“I really, if we can, would like us to make some type of concerted effort to work with the county,” Kowalski said. “Whether it be them not being involved in the grant and purchasing, but perhaps in storage and maintenance.” 

Ward 3 Alderman John Marx said he would like to ask other local communities to contribute funds to the purchase. 

“We have the mutual aid agreement with other areas. It would be nice if they would somehow help us, in Marinette, finance the project for all of the communities,” he said. 

Nault, who also attended the Tuesday meeting, said he was hesitant to do so because if other municipalities have a stake in the vehicle, “it gives away some of our control of the vehicle.” Marx said he understood, but felt uncomfortable sending such a resource to respond to other areas if the City of Marinette taxpayers are the only ones “footing the bill.” 

“Anywhere that vehicle would go, we’re already going to go, regardless of if we have the vehicle or not,” Nault replied. “The city could probably sleep a lot better at night knowing that we’re going to have protection when we go to those other areas, as we currently don’t.” 

Kowalski asked what the total cost of the vehicle would be. Nault said it would be about $180,000 for a refurbished vehicle. Kowalski then asked, on behalf of a constituent, whether or not the vehicle was a necessity. 

“It is a necessity,” Nault said. “We have officers working in this department right now that have had bullets fly past their heads on calls because we didn’t have a vehicle with armor.” 

Ward 7 Alderman Rick Polzin said he also supported finding funding from other municipalities, perhaps for the vehicle’s upkeep as Kowalski suggested. Mayor Steve Genisot said he would like to see discussions with Marinette County and the City of Menominee regarding upkeep costs, and Nault warned that if an agreement for funding is reached, it may disqualify the city from receiving the grant. 

“I would need a commitment to show a match by the city to pursue the project,” Nault said. “They’re not going to write a check for the amount if we’re not going to help fund it.” 

Marx said the City Council could approve the grant application, but not commit to accepting the funds if they are awarded. City Attorney Jonathan Sbar warned that if the USDA awards the grant to the city and the city refuses, the USDA will likely not award the city any future grants. 

“I don’t know how we can budgetarily commit to it without knowing if we’ll get the grant, what the price is and if we have the funding in this year’s budget,” Genisot said. “I don’t want to undermine our grant-writing and say we’re going to deny it if we don’t have the funds, but at the end of the day I think that’s where we’re going to be.” 

The City Council voted eight to one to support the grant application and match funds, with Alderpersons Jeff Skorik, Dave Anderson, Wally Hitt, Peter Noppenberg, Rick Polzin, Jason Flatt, Marx and Kowalski in favor and Alderman Ken Keller opposed. The matter will go back to the Finance & Insurance Committee for further discussion regarding budgeting and potential partnerships.