The Marinette County Board has authorized the hiring of a second recreation patrol deputy for the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department. The new officer will assume his duties Jan. 2 of next year. The board was left to ponder whether it should eliminate two part-time forest patrol positions, which is part of the process.

Supervisors, in a 20-9 vote, split the two issues into separate resolutions. By a 17-12 vote the board referred the question of eliminating the two forest patrol positions to its Infrastructure Committee.

The two questions are very important. There are good arguments on both sides of the coin.

Supervisor Gilbert Engel, who represents constitutions in the northern portion of the county, was emphatic in his opposition to cutting the two part-time forest patrol positions. He wants them to remain in the Forestry Department.

“We have 235,000 acres of forestland. I would like to refer this back to the Infrastructure Committee,” he told his colleagues. He said he didn’t have any problem with hiring a second recreation officer, but was opposed to seeing the part-time positions eliminated. 

Another supervisor pointed out that the second recreation patrol deputy would have “full thrust” of law enforcement and it would be more costly to add a second recreation patrol deputy without cutting the two forest patrol positions. 

Administrator John Lefebvre said the cost of having two part-time forest patrol officers who work from late spring into the fall runs the county about $25,000. He noted the $25,000 would be put toward a second recreation officer and therefore would prune the cost to the tax levy to about $5,000. He added the county would receive a grant from the Department of Natural Resources for a major portion of the funds for the position, even if it didn’t eliminate the two forest patrol jobs.

The administrator cautioned he had safety concerns about retaining the two forest patrol positions, noting they could encounter any person on county land who could cause them harm. He explained the same thing could happen to a recreation deputy, but the deputy would be better equipped to handle a hostile situation. He said forest patrol officers don’t have the same type of equipment.

According to Lefebvre, the forest patrol officers are in the woodlands to do goodwill and to educate. He told supervisors he’s not comfortable having forest patrol officers confronting people. He said the education and trash removal duties now done by the two forest patrol officers could be handled differently than they are now.

The entire issue was well-debated. Some good points came out of the discussion. Now it’s back to more discussion by the infrastructure committee and then back to the full county board. When the safety of a county employee is at the point of discussion, supervisors need to have all of the information and personal views in their hands before they can make an intelligent vote.