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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Judge Addresses WTA on Drug Court, Treatment Plan

“To keep doing what you have been doing with terrible results and expect different results next time is the definition of insanity,” Judge James Morrison told town officials present for the quarterly meeting of Marinette County Unit of Wisconsin Towns Association Thursday evening, Sept. 19 in the Wausaukee Town Hall. He and Sheriff Jerry Sauve brought to the meeting their request for local officials to help law enforcement alleviate the drug problem that has brought Marinette County the awful distinction of having the highest per capita rate of heroin overdose deaths in the state.

Judge Morrison had just finished explaining that the current solution of putting drug offenders in prison or jail and then releasing them on probation or parole with no provision for treatment of their addiction has a zero percent success rate. They dry out while incarcerated and then, at least in the case of heroin addicts, are back on the drug within six months. There is no local heroin addiction treatment available in or even near Marinette County.

He and others in the local law enforcement community are working to set up two programs they feel may help. First would be a drug court, through which nonviolent drug offenders who qualify could be offered treatment as an alternative to jail or prison terms, and for that to work treatment must be available locally.

Morrison stressed the treatment is so intensive that some choose instead to just go to jail. For the drug court to work, there must be local treatment available, and the Marinette County Department of Health and Human Services is working with law enforcement on that half of the equation. There is daily urinalysis, a requirement for daily counseling, requirement for either putting in 40 hours a week at a job or at assigned volunteer work. “This is not coddling. These are very difficult programs,” he said.

Similar programs have been yielding 55 to 60 percent success rates in areas, Judge Morrison said. State Rep. John Nygren is working with them to get state grants to help get the programs started here. Rep. Nygren has a personal interest in resolving the drug problem, as his own daughter is among those struggling with a heroin addiction.

Ron Holmes, Amberg supervisor who chairs the local WTA unit, said he had invited Sheriff Sauve, Judge Morrison and District Attorney Allen Brey to speak to the town officials on the drug problem because it has become so rampant in this county, and to ask them what local government can do to help. District Attorney Brey was unable to attend because testimony in the jury trial he is currently prosecuting in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 1 for a stabbing incident had run late that day.

Both Judge Morrison and Sheriff Sauve said one of the most effective things the local officials can do is watch and report any suspicious activities to the sheriff’s department.

Judge Morrison noted that Marinette County’s rate of drug arrests had even made the national news recently, which does nothing to enhance the county’s attraction as a place to live and work. He said in part the county may be getting a bad rap because law enforcement has been working so hard to arrest drug offenders, while some other rural counties may not have made that effort. “Their arrest rates may be low, but they are just kidding themselves...The drugs are there but they are not finding them,” Judge Morrison declared.

Most of the drugs here come from Mexico to Chicago and then north, probably through Sheboygan. He finds it hard to believe the dealers go right through the other communities without making some deliveries.

This is a relatively new problem in Marinette County, as it is in other rural areas. “Six years ago, there was no heroin here - None!” he stressed. “Marinette County has been making arrests but has no treatment options to offer.”

He said the chance that a heroin addict will eventually die from use of the drug is almost 100 percent. In an effort to at least force them to dry out and prolong their lives, as well to as punish them for illegal activities connected with either using the drug or trying to get money to buy it, he has been sentencing some minor first time offenders to jail or prison.

The family of a first time offender sometimes comes to his court to plead for leniency in sentencing, he said. “I tell them they can visit her at Christmas either in the prison yard or in the graveyard, because if I send her back to the community she will die!”

He said heroin is instantly addictive for some people, and sometimes even a single dose can kill. Heroin addiction leads to an increase in other crimes a well, as addicts turn to burglary, break-ins, etc. to raise money to buy drugs for their next fix.

The problem continues to grow here. There were more heroin prosecutions this year through the end of August than all of last year. Ironically, the 170 to 200 felony crimes in Marinette County has stayed pretty level for some years, while the number of drug related offenses has gone up hugely. Judge Morrison feels the other crimes are still happening just as often, but the number of officers working on it has not increased and they are spending so much time on heroin that the culprits in other crimes are often not apprehended or charged. The District Attorney’s office too has only so much time to prepare cases.

Sheriff Sauve noted this is the third largest county in the state, “and you know the size of our force.” He said it takes a great deal of time to put together a solid case to bring to the District Attorney.

The jail is teetering on the edge of its capacity. In 2004 there was a daily average of 79 prisoners. Now the average is 136, which he described as “a sad commentary on our society.” As to adding jail space, “if you build it, they will come.”

“I support the drug court because I know what it can do for us,” Sheriff Sauve said. “It may divert prisoners from jail. It may prevent some from coming back. We must do something different. We aren’t going to arrest ourselves out of this problem.”

He said there is much going into the effort that is not widely talked about. State investigators and federal DEA agents are often involved. He said he will keep the pressure on to apprehend drug dealers and try to stop the flow.

Judge Morrison said the Department of Corrections recommendations for prisoner sentencing have become a bad joke. “They will say, ‘Needs community treatment’ instead of 12 years of prison time. That’s a joke! THC is no community treatment here, no local counseling. Probation here has a zero success rate! We have none of the treatments that we know will work. We need community treatment desperately! ”

Rep. Nygren had come to the Criminal Justice Committee members and asked what they could to about the drug problem here. “He has promised to get us funds,” Judge Morrison said. They intend to set up a very intensive, highly supervised drug treatment program. “This is not coddling!” he stressed. “The potential for good is enormous.”

He added, “This is not just another silly government program. This is life and death for these kids!”

The grants to set up these programs are for three years, and require a 25 percent match from local governments. They need to achieve enough success in three years to convince county government to keep them going. As to money, it costs $70,000 a year to house a female prisoner at Tayceedah, $35,000 a year for male prisoners at state correctional institute, and $80,000 a year to send a youngster to Lincoln Hills - more than it would cost to send him to Harvard.

“Talk to people,” was Morrison’s answer when one of the officials present asked what they can do to help.

“People have to be courageous enough to come to us and work with us,” Sauve said. “People need to come forward and give us the information we need.”

He added three decades ago when he started working for Sheriff Joe Larson he never dreamed the day would come when they had to do drills in the courthouse on how to deal with an active shooter. He never dreamed he would be putting funds in his budget for an armored vehicle for officers to use when reporting to particularly dangerous crime scenes.

To questions from Peshtigo Town Chair Herman Pottratz, Sauve said his department works very closely with the Menominee County Sheriff’s Department across the river in Michigan. Sheriff Sauve said he and Judge David Miron have much more flexibly in sentencing than their counterparts in Michigan, where “sentencing laws for heroin are often a joke.”

Sauve said the two departments work so closely together that he is in fact going to give half the $2,500 donation his department received from KSU to Menominee County to get another dog for their K-9 unit.

Someone suggested in the old days in a small town people could just threaten, “I’ll tell your mother.”

“Today his mother might be the drug dealer,” Morrison countered.

Another suggestion was to set up a Crime Watch program, as Beecher has done.

WTA Regional Representative Marilyn Bhend had driven from her home for the meeting. She asked Sheriff Sauve if he felt it was safe for his officers to work unaccompanied.

Sauve said it’s scary, and he has become something of an insomniac working about it. “There are so many people out there that don’t have anything to lose, or think they don’t.”

Morrison said he goes out to schools to bring students his warnings to avoid drugs, but said kids had told him they would only listen to each other. He said the drug court materials will include resources for working with the kids.

One woman in the audience had an encouraging message. She said her daughter-in-law 15 years ago was sentenced to treatment in Michigan, “and now she’s drug free and earning her do asked town officials and town crews to watch for unusual activity, or people out of place, get license numbers when possible “and report it to us.”

Bhend said in her county volunteers are trained to handle drug situations, and often ride along with officers.

Sauve said Crime Stoppers is another very good tool, because callers can remain anonymous and get a $50 reward. Callers can also use an “app” on their phones to send in a tip.

Another town chair wanted to know where he could get a high resolution camera that would record license plates, and Sauve said he will get him some information.

There also was a suggestion from Pottratz that the 18 towns all have budgets and certainly should be able to raise enough money to replace the third dog in the K-9 unit. Sauve said they only budgeted for two dogs this year, and food, supplies and vet bills are expensive. A bit later Town of Wausaukee Supervisor Bob Jicha also suggested towns could help fund an additional K-9 dog, and there were offers from others to spearhead an effort for a referendum for funds to support additional officers. Sauve said his department can make do with the officers it has has for now, but will need to do something before too long.

Morrison said a machine that tests saliva for drugs, versus alcohol on drunk driving stops, was recently donated to the county.

One of the churches recently gave over $9,000, and KSU donated another $5,000 for drug work, in addition to its $2,500 donation to the K-9 unit, Sheriff Sauve said.

Holmes spoke of a man who has started an ADA group, and wants it to meet in varied rural areas of the county once a week. They currently meet in a church in Amberg.

As his portion of the meeting came to a close, Morrison expressed heartfelt thanks to Representatives Nygren and Jeff Mursau and State Senator Tom Tiffany for their support in Marinette County’s efforts to get a drug court established and set up local treatment programs. “This money will be a Godsend for us,” he declared.

He expects the county’s application to be in by Oct. 17, state funding approved by the end of the year, and work on the programs to get seriously underway shortly thereafter. However, Morrison said, they want to proceed slowly enough with setting up programs to be sure they do things right. “There will always be failures,” Morrison said of his hopes for the new programs, “but since our success rate right now is zero, anything we do will be an improvement.”

Vilas Schroeder, who serves as County Board Chair and Town of Peshtigo Clerk, urged his fellow officials to work with Crime Stoppers to report suspicious activities, and spread the word to their friends and neighbors as well. He described Crime Stoppers as an excellent organization that does good work with no tax dollars.

“It does me good to come here,” Sheriff Sauve told the group of town officials. We work with the other element so much of the time, it’s nice to know, when we’re out on the road, that there are nice folks like you home sleeping safely in your beds because of what we do.”

There were 27 town officials at the meeting in the Wausaukee Town Hall, representing 14 of the county’s 18 towns, along with several guests including County Administrator Ellen Sorensen, Senator Tiffany, Bhend, Sauve, Miron, and County Highway Administrator Ray Palonen.

Sorensen said the county’s Executive Committee will hold budget proceedings starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2. She said the county budget still has a structural deficit, but smaller than last year, and she intends to narrow or eliminate the gap next year. She is working toward another 5 percent drop in insurance costs and saving $100,000 in administrative efficiencies such as the telephone audit and a $40,000 savings from writing no checks and other savings from going paperless.

She offered to attend town board meetings to discuss county issues if invited.

Palonen updated the group on some new state laws as they pertain to roads and grants to help build them, including a new state requirement for engineering certification if they use cold mix or the increasingly popular double chip seal.

He said his crews have the proper safety equipment , flashers, barricades, etc. and are always available to come out and help with the cleanup after storms, such as removing trees and branches from roadways.

Work on County B and D west of Peshtigo is nearly done for this year, and came in under budget. Chip seal on County C and F was also done this year, and was under budget.

Repairs for County V north of County C are slated for next year, and the work will include knocking some of the hills down.

The final part of County B between Peshtigo and Coleman will be done in 2015, after the state is finished with reconstructing the Hwy. 64/141 interchange.

County C from County F to the county line will be resurfaced next year, Palonen said. In discussing condition of that segment of County C Palonen said they had done a traffic count and found only 230 cars a day had used the road. The counters were set up for a week starting on a Wednesday.

A Silver Cliff supervisor said people take the long way around instead of traveling that part of C because it is so rough.

County G is to be reconstructed using state and federal funds. The design phase will start this year and work will be managed by the state because it must be built to state and federal standards.

Hwy. 180 is to be redone in 2015, but patches are being applied now. Palonen said the state had asked them to fill ruts because they have been causing cars to swerve. Asked how the 2015 construction will affect the state’s plans to use Hwy. 64 to Hwy. 180 as a detour while they replace some bridges and/or culverts on Hwy. 141 in 2015, Palonen said the schedules may need to be coordinated.

Snow plow schedules will change a bit this year. In an effort to get the highway and surrounding roads cleared more quickly plow truck will be stationed at the Amberg Forestry shop. Forestry crews do sometimes come in and help with plowing, Palonen said. The Highway Department has 29 plow trucks.

“Hopefully we can provide a little better service this year,” Palonen said.

Before winter comes they plan to re-gravel and re-crown the road to McClintock Park.

Palonen was complimented on the beautiful job they had done on County I (Parkway Road north of County C).

The price of salt/sand towns buy from the county is going down from $25 to $22 a ton.

Palonen said charges for Highway Department will be more accurate than they had sometimes been in the past. In the past there was no way to tack actual day to day costs. He created some spread sheets and now expenses are tracked daily. Pottratz asked if he had a per mile cost for the work done on D and B, and Palonen said he did not have the information with him, but would get it.

Tiffany, following Palonen as speaker, said as to County C, “I will start traveling it after you get it done next year.” He had made the 2-hour trip from his home in Hazelhurst for the meeting.

Tiffany said the budget is done, and towns in the second year of the biennium will be getting more road aid money for the first time in many, many years. Counties too will see an increase in their road allocations.

He invited any towns having problems with the DNR in connection with culvert permits to call him. He said what should have been a $10,000 culvert replacement for Arbor Vitae ended up costing over $50,000 because of DNR interference. He said he is currently speaking with the DNR to see if they can get away from permitting at all if a town just wants to replace one culvert with another of the same size.

Early in the meeting Bhend had spoken about a proposed new state law that would allow towns to withdraw from county zoning if they have their own zoning plan. Tiffany said Dane County has made it virtually impossible for towns to get out of county zoning, and he has introduced a bill to change that.

There also is a bill to allow recall elections for towns and counties only if there has been malfeasance in office. Making that same rule for state legislators and other Constitutional offices will require a Constitutional amendment.

That proposal was opposed by an Amberg representative, who said when a town has a bad board it is important to be able to get them out of office as quickly as possible, even though they may not have broken ny laws. Tiffany said he has an open mind on the issue and invited a call.

Tiffany and Rep. Mursau of Crivitz have co-authored a bill changing some of the provisions of the managed forest laws. For one thing, they feel more money should go to the local communities, since putting property into forest crop takes it off the local tax roll.

There were hearings around the state in August on the controversial NR115, Tiffany said, and now legislators are watching to be sure the new rules the DNR comes out with are not “too onerous” for towns and property owners. He invited anyone with concerns to contact him at 608-266-2509.

The group supported a resolution asking the state to increase highway aids and raise the limit on how much a town can legally spend on rebuilding a road.

Ann Hartnell, on behalf of Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) invited all local government officials to attend an economic development workshop to be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at Wausaukee School. Sponsors are MCABI, Marinette County Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA).

Bhend urged as many town officials as possible to attend the state WTA convention to learn the latest about new laws and programs. She urged anyone who had not attended a property tax workshop to do so, because there have been some changes in state law that they will need to comply with, including doing a report on-line even if they have not raised taxes above the levy limit.




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