Ryan Bourassa approved as County Forest Administrator

By: 
Shirley Prudhomme

MARINETTE – With no opposing votes Marinette County Board on Tuesday, March 26 approved Administrator John LeFebvre’s recommendation to appoint Ryan Bourassa as Forestry Administrator.

Bourassa has filled the position on an interim basis since Feb. 27, 2023. Bourassa, who earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Forest Management from UW-Stevens Point, has been employed by Marinette County as a forester since Dec. 10, 2016. 

“We are lucky to have him,” Supervisor Bonnie Popp declared. Her comment was met with applause of agreement from the other 26 supervisors at the meeting.

State Senator Eric Wimberger, who represents the 30th Wisconsin Senatorial District as it exists today, was a special guest at the meeting. He fielded a long question and answer session that touched on unspent COVID funds, pending legislation aimed at protecting innocent property owners from responsibility for PFAS contamination that they did not cause, county budgeting problems in view of state property tax levy limits, and special problems faced by Marinette County due to its size and its location on the border with Michigan.

Wimberger was critical of Gov. Tony Evers for vetoing a $2.1 billion tax relief plan while the state has an all-time high rainy day fund of $1.85 billion and a surplus of $3 billion. 

All 30 seats on County Board were on the ballot to be filled at the Spring elections on Tuesday, April 2, and at the start of the meeting Board Chair saluted Supervisors Robert Holley, Tom Mailand, Rick Polzin and Al Sauld, and Robert Holley, who did not seek re-election and were participating in their last meeting as supervisors. Guarisco thanked the outgoing supervisors for all the time they have put into representing the residents of their districts, and for all they have done for Marinette County as a whole. He expressed particular thanks to County Board Vice Chair Holley for doing so much to make his job as Board Chair easier.

LeFebvre announced that an orientation session for new County Board members is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 11. He said they will be taught to use the technology they will need for their Supervisor responsibilities and will be given explanations of some of the issues they will face on their first County Board agendas. He noted County Board will be losing chairs of three of its five standing committees, so there will be some big changes ahead.

Guarisco said in addition to that, with the departure of Holley and Sauld the MarOco Landfill Committee is losing 40 years of experience. He said the landfill has a “sizable” budget, although it operates without a cost to taxpayers, but there are some big decisions coming up in regard to the future of the landfill, which is jointly owned by Marinette and Oconto counties. The MarOco Committee has been considering whether they should construct another cell for the landfill or close it when the current developed portion of the site is filled, which could leave individuals with no reasonably priced disposal site for things like building debris. 

LeFebvre told the board that Spectrum has been awarded a contract to expand digital service in rural areas of Marinette County, and eventually everyone who lives within 1,500 feet will be able to hook up by paying a $65 fee. He said crews are working in the Crivitz, Town of Stephenson, Lake and Porterfield areas now, after which they will be going north and then west.

LeFebvre announced happily that on March 14 Wisconsin Act 107 became law, ending efforts that started in Marinette County seven years ago when he asked State Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz for help in drafting a law and getting it passed. The change LeFebvre had sought for so long allows counties and other municipalities to provide proof of financial responsibility for long-term care and closure of landfills rather than requiring them to obtain costly letters of credit each year.

LeFebvre told the board this change in law will save Marinette County taxpayers some $15,000 to $20,000 every year for the foreseeable future. Other Wisconsin counties and municipalities will enjoy similar savings. Marinette and Oconto counties jointly own the MarOco Landfill in the Town of Stephenson and Marinette County also has responsibility for the long closed landfill in the Town of Niagara. Previously, due to a glitch in the law, some private landfill owners were allowed to show proof of financial responsibility to cover the cost of long term care and closure, while governing bodies - like Marinette County - had to obtain costly annual letters of credit.

LeFebvre began his monthly report by thanking Mursau for his help in getting the law drafted and passed, and by congratulating MarOco Landfill Administrator Paul Kloes who recently went to Madison to successfully testify for the new law.

LeFebvre said in summer of 2017 he had reached out to Mursau for help with the long-term care rules, “and now, seven years later, we have the law we need.”

“And to think it all began here in Marinette County,” LeFebvre remarked.

The Board again had much discussion on future use and/or redevelopment of the UW-Marinette Campus, which is to be mostly vacated by UW-Green Bay when the lease ends in July. LeFebvre has favored giving the property to the city of Marinette, but with strings attached that will require payment to the county if the city ever sells the property.

LeFebvre said he has asked the UWGB chancellor to put together their proposed lease for the second half of 2024. He said it is his intention to ask the Infrastructure Committee to consider transferring ownership of the property to the City of Marinette at its April 10 meeting and put the issue on the agenda for County Board at its next meeting, which will be on Tuesday, April 16. “If County board wishes to table it, or do nothing, at least I want to get it out there,” he declared. 

Meanwhile, supervisors have been asked to get opinions from residents of their respective districts on future uses of the campus. LeFebvre had scheduled a listening session to be held at the Niagara City hall on Wednesday, March 27, and asked supervisors from that area to please have people come and speak up. 

There were questions as to whether or not the public input meeting was advertised in the paper, and Supervisor Ken Hanson said they were able to get it into the Florence County Mining News, and added that is okay, but he doesn’t read that paper, he reads the Peshtigo Times. He stressed there is a time lag, and said they need to advertise ahead of time. LeFebvre said they can hold another public input meeting if needed.

Hanson said they should notify everyone at least 30 days in advance, and print copies of the notice so they can hand out the information at town board meetings.

County Corporation Counsel Rebecca Lindner said the county also posts notices on social media.

Supervisor Trygve Rhude said it is important for supervisors to be talking this up, and suggested County Board should consider forming a subcommittee to get the information out. “This is a big deal!” he added.

Supervisor Stan Gruszynski agreed with the idea of forming a sub-committee, and said they perhaps should also do that for other major issues. “This shouldn’t all be on John...it’s our responsibility to get the community involved in these decisions,” he declared.

Comments from other supervisors included that people want the campus developed into something that will make money for the county, and many felt it should not be given to the city.

Supervisor Mark Anderson asked if the University will pay fair market value on the new lease agreement. LeFebvre said they will pay for care and upkeep of the offices they will occupy, and are interested in running the Theatre on the Bay. 

Supervisor Gail Wanek commented UW-Green Bay then will make all the money from the Theatre.

Anderson said the county should look farther than just giving it to the City of Marinette. Holley agreed, as did Supervisor Ginger Deschane.

Deschane declared she had talked to at least 20 people in Crivitz, “…and to a person, they were adamant that we should not give it to the City of Marinette…We have already given them too much!”

Returning to discussion of the UW-Green Bay lease for space on the UW-Marinette Campus, LeFebvre said he would like a lease for at least three to five years, or longer. He said people still want the presence of UW-Green Bay in Marinette, even if it will all be distant learning with no in-person classes held there.

Action items for the board included approving transfer of $146,599.74 from the 2023 contingency fund to pay the county’s share of sewer replacement on the UW-Marinette property. LeFebvre said they may see some of that money come back from UW-Green Bay. Total cost was $153,200. 

Allowing the county conservationist to apply for a $225,000 Targeted Runoff Management pass-through grant at no cost to the county, contract with Dessert Winds Hospital for $126,000 for client placement for up to 90 days (for placement of a juvenile in the facility in Las Vegas), and approving elimination of a Mental Health Case manager position and creation of a Rehabilitation Coordinator position for the Department of Health and Human Services.

LeFebvre advised the board that the Village of Wausaukee has been informed it will be receiving a $1.6 million federal grant for housing to be developed on the former Wausaukee School property.

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