County Board Approves Move Of Parks, Forestry Offices To Peshtigo
After more than an hour of debate and a series of roll call votes on Tuesday, Feb. 26, Marinette County Board voted by a narrow 16 to 11 margin, with three members absent, to move the Parks, Forestry and Outdoor Recreation Department out of the courthouse on Hall Avenue in Marinette and into quarters they will share with the Highway Department in Peshtigo. In a related series of moves, the Finance Department will now move from the annex portion of the courthouse into the larger quarters on the third floor of the main building currently occupied by Parks and Forestry.
Arguments that people coming to the courthouse on other business would be unable to buy firewood permits, parks annual stickers, camping and timber harvest permits on the same trip were met with assurances that the Land Information and Finance offices could assist with those services from the courthouse.
The move had been recommended by County Administrator Ellen Sorensen as part of a series of shifts designed to fit into plans for LEAN governmental operations. Sorensen, who is out of the country on vacation, did not attend the meeting, but her position was vehemently defended by Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison and County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder, and was backed by administrators of the departments involved.
Supervisors who opposed the space shuffle objected to having more county functions moved away from the courthouse complex and cited inconvenience to county taxpayers. They fought to force a closer look at making use of the mostly vacant former jail building on the back side of the courthouse, facing Ella Court Street to house Human Resources and the Finance Department, functions they argued would be better served by a more isolated location, and that Human Resources would benefit from space for confidential interviews.
The county now has two largely unused former jails, one on the fourth floor of the main courthouse building and the other in the relatively new former law enforcement building on Ella Court. The law enforcement center and jail were moved about a decade ago to new quarters on County T, and there already has been talk about running out of space there.
In May of last year the board had approved Finance Committee reorganization that affected numerous departments and included moving one member of the Parks/Forestry office staff to the Finance Department and eliminating a Highway Department secretarial position. Arguments at the time were that with modern technology and telephones a person physically located in one office could help with tasks in another office, even if that office was located in another city.
During the debate Supervisor Robert Holley commented that while he is not certain two secretaries are needed in each office, perhaps the actions taken by the board in May had implications that had not been considered at the time.
This is the best answer for us at this time, Parks and Forestry Administrator Peter Vilas told the board. We lost one person to finance. Our administrative assistant does work for Forestry, Parks and Highway departments, including taking minutes for their committee meetings. That means shes out of the office, which leaves us short handed. With just one person we have no one to cover when she is taking minutes, gone to lunch or on vacation...With everything thats happening, this is the best answer for our department right now.
Vilas said later in the debate that it would be his to seek a move back to the courthouse if he found out his department was not serving the public well at the Highway Department location. Supervisor Kathy Just asked where they would move to at that point, since Finance by then would be in their former offices.
During discussion it was pointed out by several opponents that an attempt to combine the Highway, Parks, Forestry and Maintenance divisions into a single Public Works Department a few years ago had not been successful, and just last year they were separated again into individual departments with individual administrators. Now the Highway and Forestry departments, each with its own administrator, will be sharing space and office staff. Supporters of the move cited union conflicts among reasons the combined department did not work, and pointed out the two departments use much of the same types of equipment and now, without the union restrictions, the crews work together as needed.
The relocation debate came as the last item on a somewhat long agenda that began with a report by NWTC Dean Dr. Jeff Rafn on plans for that educational institution that includes expanding the new training center near Marinette Marine and expanding the NWTC/high school partnership plan with creation of another training center similar to the highly successful dual credit program operated with Wausaukee, Crivitz and Pembine high schools.
Jim Koronkiewicz of Peshtigo was appointed to the Bay Area Medical Center Board of Directors to a term expiring on Dec. 31, 2016. Koronkiewicz, general manager of BPM, Inc. of Peshtigo, has served as a reserve member of the BAMC board since September of 2012, and was endorsed by them to fill the term vacated by Louise Policello of Middle Inlet.
The board without dissent endorsed a resolution calling for restoration of base level funding for programs that support the work of the countys Land and Water Conservation Division and related conservation programs as recommended by Wisconsin counties Association and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.
They approved a discretionary traffic maintenance agreement with Wisconsin DOT for pavement marking and plywood traffic signing for a total of $86,400 as recommended by Highway Committee Chair Russ Bousley, and approved entering into a county/municipal agreement with the City of Peshtigo for improvements on County D between Aubin Street and Oconto Ave. in the city.
On recommendation of Parks and Forestry Committee Chair Bill Walker the board approved two 12-foot WPS utility easements for road improvements in the Town of Lake at no cost to WPS, but WPS is to prepare and record the deeds at their expense.
Forestry Department purchases of two pickup trucks from The Motor Company of Marinette for $22,196 and $25,329 respectively were approved, as was a contract from Superior Forestry Services, Inc. for 2013 tree planting for $6,709, and purchase of a new portable band saw mill from Wood-Mizer Products for $28,479 to replace the older and smaller model the department bought several years ago. Vilas said his department saws logs into lumber for his own department as well as others in the county, including the Highway Department. The old sawmill and vehicles will eventually be sold at auction if no other department wants them.
After several questions were answered the board approved an agreement with Sand Creek Consultants, Inc. to design an onsite leachate treatment system at the North County Landfill, and to transfer not more than $50,000 from the non-lapsing fund balance to pay for it. The system is to be solar-powered. Land Information and Solid Waste Administrator John LeFebvre said the landfill is closed and there are no plans to reopen it, but the leachate has to be treated. The system of collecting leachate and spraying it over the landfill will mean healthier grass on the landfill cap and eliminate much of the cost of hauling leachate for disposal. He said they predict savings will exceed costs in six to eight years.
After some discussion the board approved a promissory note for a 21-year loan of $409,600 at 2.5 percent interest to Marinette County Shelter Care Group Home Association. The money will be used to refinance existing debts to the county of $260,943 and $20,600 and provide $128,057 for a 4-bedroom and sitting room addition to Anthony House, which is a residential treatment center for patients with chronic mental illnesses that is more and more moving toward providing crisis intervention services.
One of the big benefits to residents is that they stay in the community, close to their own physicians, families and friends, and can continue seeing the same therapists after release, which makes transition to home far easier.
Health and Human Services Director Robin Elsner said Anthony House, built nine years ago, helps keep county residents with mental problems out of the higher priced institutions. They have repaid over $200,000 in those nine years and saved the county over $3.7 million. He said Anthony House charges $128 a day, compared to $1,000 at Bellin and $840 a day at Nicolet treatment center, the former Brown County Mental Health Center, and by state law the county is responsible for the care of people who need these types of services. He said eventually the five permanent residents will be moved out, allowing more beds for patients needing acute care intervention. The county may also eventually back construction of another residential care facility for patients with long term problems.
The Shelter Care Association also operates Crossroads, which is a group home for juveniles who for one reason or another need a temporary home away from home.
A one-year lease was approved for the Niagara Senior Center. Supervisor Al Sauld asked why the short term, when previous leases had been for five years. Mattison said there has been some conversation on the possibility of someone else, possibly the city of Niagara, taking over the facility, but assured him, Dont worry, the county is not going to bail on this. There also were some details to work out on how to divide costs of long and short term maintenance.
Then came the Building and Property Committee recommendation to move the Forestry and Parks Department to the Highway Shop at Peshtigo. Schroeder called for a recess before taking up what everyone knew would be a contentious issue.
Motion to go ahead with the department moves was made by Behnke, as Buildings and Property Committee chair. At first there was no second, and finally Supervisor Nick Lakari offered a second and the debate began.
Supervisor Ken Mattison said they need to keep as many county functions in the courthouse as possible. Supervisor Larry Nichols agreed they need to keep the department in the courthouse complex. Weve got a lot of space here, he declared, especially that black hole next door!...I am not for this whatsoever.
Supervisor Ted Sauve said he had received more calls opposing this proposal than any other since they were considering instituting the half a percent sales tax several years ago. Sauld said careful spending had put the county in good financial condition, but expressed displeasure at seeing a proposal like this when there is a vacant building next door. He said often people who come to the courthouse on forestry matters also need things like certifications from the Register of Deeds office or copies from the County Clerk. This is the county seat, he declared. We need to keep the business here. He was the first to suggest moving Human Resources and Finance to the vacant former law enforcement center.
Supervisor Ken Keller noted Sorensen was the one who recommended the change they were considering, and suggested it was unfair to decide when she was absent.
Mattison declared Sorensen is 100 percent behind this move, and suggested they call Finance Director Pat Kass for input. He talked about changes that resulted from reorganization of his department last May, and said combining Parks and Forestry with Highway right now will enable them both to respond in a more efficient and effective manner...If we do not approve this, well need to add a person back. He had been involved in the LEAN discussions, and urged, to be LEAN, these are the things we need to do. He said Highway Commissioner Ray Palonen and Vilas have looked at things they can do together in the future and feel this is the best way to go.
Sauve asked if there had been any thoughts about this department shift when they looked at the reorganizations recommended last year as part of the Finance Department reconstruction. He was told Sorensen spent much time on this issue and talked with the Highway and Forestry administrators and sees this as the best solution.
Palonen spoke of similar duties and similar equipment used by their departments and felt being in the same location will give them more opportunities to work together and share resources.
Gilbert Engel commented that having separate offices did not mean they couldnt coordinate care and maintenance of equipment. He said they are heating the building next door anyway, and its just sitting there, mostly empty.
Facilities Director John Machnik said the old law enforcement center is not in condition to use for offices right now. He said on the first floor there is a wellness center for employees and one office, and the second floor is a jail.
To questions from supervisors he said there had been a study that showed a cost of $1.5 million to renovate that building, but admitted he had not been part of the county at that time and had no personal knowledge of the study.
Behnke said later his committee is looking at rejuvenating the building, and hopes they can get someone to remove the metal cells from the jail in return for the salvage value.
Supervisor Mike Cassidy of Goodman pointed out that in the past the prior administrator had tried to combine the departments and it didnt work. He said they have been told people can get their permits on-line, but pointed out that many older residents do not have access to computers and printers, and this is their county too! He said Human Resources would do well in the other building, where people wanting confidential conversations could come without being observed or overheard. He said his constituents want the department kept in the courthouse.
Human Resources is not part of this discussion, Mattison declared. She said she had been authorized by Sorensen to express her position, and went on, You authorized the Finance Department to be reorganized...The county went through LEAN planning... Finance presented the plan ... part of it is to eliminate staff and find efficiencies.
She said Finance needs more space, and they looked at moving to other locations, and repeated, Human Resources is not part of this discussion today...This is about Parks and Forestry and Highway!... Some folks might not like this because people dont like change ...the Highway Department is short of staff...the building next door doesnt factor into that!
She said under the former County Administrator the combining of the departments was not done properly and there were many union issues that prevented efficiency and working together that do not exist today. Its efficient...Its interactive..It works with LEAN, and its the least disruptive and the least expensive, Mattison said of the move she was supporting on behalf of Sorensen.
Behnke thanked Mattison for her support, and commented,We were tasked with putting something together and this is what we came up with. He said his committee fully supported the department moves.
There was a call for the question to end debate, which requires two thirds approval. It failed, with 16 in favor, 10 opposed and four absent or not voting. By then Supervisor Joe Policello had left the meeting, Supervisor CJ Barrette abstained, and Supervisors Connie Seefeldt and Al Mans were absent and excused.
Debate went on. Schroeder vacated the chair to enter the discussion, and Vice Chair Just stepped up to the chair. Schroeder declared the county is a a crossroads and they could either stick their feet in the sand or move ahead, out of the 19th century.
Nichols called again for consideration of the former jail building and when told again about the cost, asked, If we dont start looking at it now, when?... Weve ignored it for over 10 years! People are getting angry about it.
Behnke said they are actively looking at options, and he is optimistic they will use it. Machnik admitted he himself had not done any studies there.
There was more talk about not making a decision contrary to the recommendation without Sorensen present, and Supervisor Russ Bauer moved to send it back to committee for re-evaluation. Sauve seconded.
To what purpose? Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison demanded. Bauer said to consider other options, and Supervisor Engel asked that the motion specifically include a provision that they look at costs involved with renovating the old jail into usable space.
At one point Sauve sought to speak again, but Schroeder told him he was trying to limit comments to no more than two from each supervisor,or well be here all day.
Supervisor Don Pazynski urged a vote in favor of increased efficiency, but was concerned about inconveniencing the customers. He asked how many people would be inconvenienced. Vilas said the numbers depend on the season. Right now, perhaps 10 or 15, in fall maybe 30 or 40, and on the day of tax deed land sales, probably more, it varies.
We can do this...Its just communication, Kass declared. He said his staff in Finance and people in LeFebvres Land Information office will help the public to serve their needs in Marinette so they do not need to travel to Peshtigo. We department heads have thought this through, and were the ones who work here every day, he declared.
He said his department needs the extra space very soon, another month is too long. He said he has people doing confidential payroll work on a table in the conference room.
Vote to send the issue back to committee failed, seven to 20. The seven who wanted it sent back were supervisors Joe Banaszak, Bauer, Alice Baumgarten, Shirley Kaufman, Ken Mattison, Sauve, and Parks and Forestry Chair Bill Walker. Policello, Mans and Seefeldt were not present.
There were then 16 votes in favor of the department moves, and 11 opposed. Those in favor of moving Parks and Forestry to the Peshtigo Highway Shop were supervisors CJ Barrette, Russ Bousley, Behnke, Ken Casper, Cassidy, Just, Keller, Lakari, Tom Mailand, Pazynski, Al Sauld, Schroeder, Mel Sharpe, and Walker. Those opposed were Banaszak, Bauer, Baumgarten, Paul Gustafson, Robert Holley, Kaufman, Mattison, Nichols, Sauve, Clancy Whiting and Cheryl Wruk.
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