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Extension plan emerges for part-time ag agent

Plans to restore part-time UW-Extension agriculture agent services were among personnel proposals that moved forward at Monday's Pierce County Finance and Personnel Committee meeting.

Committee members approved initial plans Sept. 10 for a shared position that Area Extension Director Kristen Bruder said would bring Pepin County ag agent Mike Travis to Pierce County on a limited basis. She said funding to cover the 0.20 position in Pierce County would come from redistributing horticulture educator funds. The need for those funds will be lessened through a new horticulture outreach educator position, which will service multiple western Wisconsin counties.

Finance and Personnel Committee members unanimously approved the plan, which was recommended by the Agriculture and Extension Education Committee.

Bruder said Monday that Pepin County and the state had already signed off on the new plan. The plan must clear a second hurdle at Finance and Personnel's special Sept. 26 meeting before it could go before the full Pierce County Board for consideration.

The issue caused a major stir in 2017, when a majority of County Board members voted to eliminate the ag agent position amid budget concerns.

Monday's meeting also saw preliminary approval of a new social worker position for Pierce County Child Protective Services. The request came from Human Services Director Ron Schmidt, who described a "crushing" caseload.

"We are running our most tenured folks into the ground," he told the committee.

A new social worker would provide relief to the unit, which Schmidt said is on the verge of a mental "meltdown" amid turnover and the growing workload.

Methamphetamine abuse, he said, is the culprit behind the heightened caseload. He said the county has yet to see anything like it and that there's no sign of it abating.

Schmidt later said he doesn't want Pierce to become the second Wisconsin county to have its child-welfare program taken over by the state.

"It is dire," he said of the situation. "Let's not mince words."

County Board Supervisor Jon Aubart, who chairs the Finance and Personnel Committee, said that along with law enforcement and others, social workers represent the front lines in the battle brought on by meth.

"They need help," he said. "We need to do something."

One request from Schmidt that Aubart was not warm to was a proposal seeking to rename three behavior health manager positions. Under the proposal, those titles would change to "behavioral health administrator," which Aubart said could bring a host of issues, including a change from non-exempt to exempt employee status.

Aubart recommended re-examining the request after the county hires a new administrative coordinator.

The committee also approved an initial $46,000 funding request for courthouse security to buy a portable metal detector and to replace analog security cameras with internet protocol-connected cameras.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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