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County ponders merging emergency management duties

Decisions about having a fulltime St. Croix County emergency management director and keeping the department free-standing rather than merging it with another emergency response department will be delayed until 2010.

At their Dec. 15 meeting, County Board members voted to postpone a decision until January.

Contract director Jack Colvard has agreed to stay on temporarily but does plan to leave the job by spring, said Emergency Management and Communications Committee Chairman John Borup.

When Colvard retired from his position as fulltime emergency management director, the county hired him as a contractor to work 30 hours a week.

His current contract expires Dec. 31, and Colvard submitted his resignation, saying he intended his last day of work to be Dec. 23.

Colvard, who has insisted that it's best to keep a separate Emergency Management Department, said 54 of Wisconsin's 72 counties have independent departments and 14 other counties have emergency management positions under the sheriff's command.

On Oct. 28 -- following discussions with Sheriff Dennis Hillstead who asked to have Emergency Management merged with his department and Emergency Communications Center Director Casey Swetik who asked to have Emergency Management merged with his department -- the parent committee voted to merge EM and EC.

At that point, the Emergency Management and Communications Committee asked that four hours be added to a part-time administrative secretary's position and that those hours be devoted to emergency management duties.

Before the County Board could act on that recommendation, the committee rethought its earlier decision and recommended hiring an emergency management director to work 32 hours a week. The committee said the $55,978 already budgeted for the department would cover the cost of the new director.

The committee reversed its original recommendation after hearing from Wisconsin Emergency Management Administrator Edward Wall and West Central Region Director Lois Ristow, who insist that the county needs a fulltime emergency management director.

"We encourage fulltime directors whenever possible, recognizing that the complexities of the job demand a great deal of time and effort if done right," wrote Wall in a letter to the County Board. Wall said it's been his experience that professionals qualified for this job want a fulltime position.

He argued that St. Croix County's size, its population density, the frequency of recorded tornados here, the potential for man-made hazards and the fact that two railroad lines and an interstate highway run through the county substantiate the need for an effective emergency management position.

Ristow relayed concerns that St. Croix is minimizing the emergency management position.

She recommended that the new director be skilled in emergency management, rather than law enforcement or other emergency services.

The duties of the Emergency Management Department include developing emergency management plans and putting them into action, directing activities during states of emergency and providing classes in hazardous material response to fire, police and ambulance departments.