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Forestry committee discusses cellphones, warning letter

The county’s new cellphone policy was put in action by members of the Taylor County Forestry and Recreation Committee on Friday as they reviewed how forestry department staff are reimbursed for phone expenses.

In the past, the county paid 50 percent of the cellphone expense for the forest administrator and assistant forest administrator. Under a new county policy the department no longer had the ability to reimburse at that level but had to follow a policy set up by the county Information Technology (IT) department.

Committee member Mike Bub, who also chairs the IT committee, said the intent was to make the cellphone policy uniform between all departments. He said the options for each department are to: provide staff with a countyissued cellphone that cannot be used for any personal use, pay a $20 per month stipend for county employees who require cellphones for work who are not on call 24/7, pay a $40 per month stipend for county employees who require cellphones for work who are on call 24/7.

Bub explained the cellphone issue had been raised by another county supervisor who was concerned about taxpayers subsidizing the price of phones. “We had people charging the county $140 per month for personal cellphones,” Bub said.

“The county was trying to get a handle on cellphone cost because it was exploding,” Bub said.

Under the policy, departments must fill out a form requesting the phone use and submit it to the IT department for review. Forest administrator Jake Walcisak said they submitted a form for the forestry department phones in December.

Assistant administrator Jordan Lutz said he has worked in situations in the past where they had to use an issued phone and noted that as soon as he got home that phone was turned off, as compared to his personal phone which he keeps on at all times.

Walcisak agreed and noted it was just far easier to carry one phone rather than two.

Under the county’s plan, the county is charged $53 per month, per phone. This would put it at $106 per month for the department. Even at the higher rate, the county would save money by compensating the employees for their cellphone use.

“I am thinking the $40 is the right way to go,” said committee chairman Chuck Zenner after hearing from Walcisak that they use their phones for county business before and after regular work hours.

Committee members agreed to go with the $40 per month, per phone reimbursement as allowed by county policy.

Logging sales

The Taylor County Forestry Department is sending a warning to logging contract holders that they are responsible for sloppy work done by their haulers.

Committee members supported the department penalizing Northwest Hardwoods of Dorchester $239.45, which is the double-stumpage penalty for 1,040 board feet of timber that had been hauled without being scaled.

Lutz explained that Northwest Hardwoods is the contract holder on timber sale No. 668 and that they had hired a hauler as a subcontractor. Once the oversight was discovered Lutz said the company had been cooperative in determining what had happened.

“He should have known better,” Lutz said of the hauler, noting the penalty was not very much financially, but was being done as a matter of principle.

The county has the ability to blacklist a company from receiving county timber sales for a period of time. However, county staff said they did not feel, as a first time violation, that it rose to that level.

“It is sloppy workmanship,” said committee member Gary Beadles, noting that hopefully the penalty will be a lesson learned and that it will not happen again.

“I am sure we have all been pulled over for speeding once. You got warned, the next time there is no warning,” Bub said.

In other business, committee members:

_ Approved a $23,012.50 engineering proposal from Ayres Associates for work to be done at the sluice gate at Miller Dam. The gate, which controls the water level of the flowage behind the dam, is in need of replacement and is currently being kept closed. Walcisak said they are seeking a 50/50 matching grant for the project from the state and the engineering costs would be included in that grant. He said he wanted to bring it to the committee for formal approval. “I didn’t feel comfortable with signing a $23,000 document without talking to you guys first,” he said.

_ Reviewed the changes implemented to reduce the number of people in the courthouse due to COVID- 19. According to Walcisak, the department is waiving the need for firewood permits. These permits allow individuals to collect dead or down lumber from the forest for personal use. Generally there is a $25 fee for these permits, with about 25 to 30 issued each year.

_ Approved a $67,000 bid for Eby’s Portable Welding and Fabricating of Glen Flora for the replacement of three snowmbile/ATV bridge decks and rails on the Pine Line Rail Trail. The project is 100% grant funded. The bridges will be partial steel with a steel substructure. Walcisak said the fabricator will be doing most of the work in his shop and then bring it to the site to be installed. This should reduce the closure needed for the trail to only a short period of time. The bridges are the first three going north of Pleasant Ave. The cost is $4,000 under budget.