This October, Dean Merlak — a longtime deputy for the Price County Sheriff's Department — stepped into the role of humane officer for Price County.
The position was recently transitioned by Price County government from a private contractor to an on-staff employee of the Sheriff's Department. The change signals a shift in how animal cases will be handled by law enforcement.
As a humane officer, Merlak is charged with animal-related cases countywide, ranging from reports of animal neglect or abuse to a family pet that has gone missing.
In the past when the Sheriff's
Department received calls from concerned citizens, they had limited resources to handle each individual case.
According to Sheriff Brian Schmidt, having a deputy in the role of humane officer will streamline the process of looking into each report, determining what the appropriate action is, and adding a level of accountability by responding to the original eyewitness.
Prior to stepping into the position, Merlak participated in 40 hours of training from the University of Missouri Extension Office in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
This training ensured that Merlak would be able to access an animal's physical condition, as well as their surrounding environment — determining if they have adequate food, water, and shelter.
Coupled with Merlak's 19 years of experience as a deputy, he has the resources to handle isolated incidents as well as identifying patterns that may require legal action.
Having a credentialed law enforcement officer in the role also assists the Health Department and District Attorney's Office in determining the appropriate action to take in the case of criminal prosecution, according to Schmidt.
Many of the reports of neglected livestock can be simply corrected by providing education to the owner, according to Merlak. Having appropriate follow-through also helps ensure that the right steps have been taken after the humane officer has provided guidelines for care.
"Most of the time, these are going to be cases requiring education rather than enforcement," said Merlak. "Now we have the resources and education to appropriately handle these cases."
In order to provide safe housing for lost pets or neglected animals that have either been surrendered or seized by the Sheriff's Department, the county has partnered with Catkins Animal Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter located near Park Falls.
According to Laura Stroud, director of Catkins, the organization's focus will remain the same — offering care and adoption services for dogs and cats — although they will be expanding their services in order to support the humane officer in his role.
Starting in November, Catkins will have its first fulltime staff member and be open five days a week, up from two days a week.
"We are a tiny facility, but we have some great space out here," said Stroud. "As the county's operation grows, we want to be able to expand our offerings to the community and support the humane officer in his role."
Stray animals will be posted to the humane officer's Facebook page in the hopes of reuniting the pet with its owner. If a pet remains unclaimed for more than seven days, it will then be made available for adoption. Stray pets will also be checked for appropriate licensing and rabies vaccination, and if they are not up to date when returned to their original owner, they will be given five days to do so.
"We will do everything we can to find the owners, get the animal safely cared for and placed at Catkins," said Schmidt.
Merlak is also working to build relationships with local veterinary clinics. His schedule will also shift to eight-hour shifts in order to be available to the public on more days of the year. He can be contacted by calling the Sheriff's Department at 715-339-3011, by email at dean. firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook at Price County Humane Officer.
The addition of a hunter safety course to the Phillips Summer School Enrichment Program boosted student numbers this year, according to a report given to the school board at their regular meeting Oct. 21.
Program organizer Tyler Ring reported that participation numbers have steadily grown since 2017, going from 321 to 330 in 2018 to 357 this year. The majority of kids who participated were kindergarten through eighth grade, both district students and kids visiting the area for the summer.
There were over 50 classes with a few new offerings, including the Department of Natural Resources hunter safety course and two soccer camps, along with standard remedial classes and an array of other learning opportunities.
The two-week hunter safety course was taught by Dan Vernig and Peter VanGalder, who donated their time to teach 27 students. Ring noted that there are several parents who are interested in the possibility of adding snowmobile and ATV safety courses to the program in the future.
The Building Better Athletes program was well attended this year, with a total of 87 kids participating — approximately 50 of which were very consistent in attending the training classes four days a week, according to Ring. The physical training offers kids a launching platform for their high school athletic careers, and Ring noted that a number of girls are poised for success in basketball and softball in the next couple years.
The school also served 4,147 free breakfasts and lunches to students through the National School Lunch Program, for which the school was reimbursed.
Student reports on Sources of Strength training
Sophomore Justin Polacek, who serves as a student liaison to the school board, gave a report on his experience attending a suicide prevention training known as Sources of Strength Oct. 8. Polacek was one of about 25 Phillips High School students who attended, along with eight members of staff.
The four-hour training taught students how to support those who are struggling with mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts, according to Polacek. As teenagers are often privy to the challenges facing their fellow
students — perhaps more so than adults — this type of training was determined to be of value for students that play a leadership role within the district.
"We need to teach the students to be more understanding," said Polacek. "I witness a lot of students who just go about their day and don't really acknowledge other students who you can clearly tell are having issues."
Polacek recommended the school holds an assembly where the entire student body is taught to recognize the signs of mental health-related issues and the appropriate ways to address them.
Board member Tracy Burkart noted that Chequamegon High School offers a similar two-day training session on mental health, and Polacek agreed that a longer, wider-reaching program would be beneficial for students at Phillips.
The school board approved hiring Jessica Lewis in the role of LTE paraprofessional and renewed the non-faculty coaching contracts of Trevor Raskie, Jacob Olson, Timothy Podmolik, Tim Brown, Joe Grapa, and Josh Upson.
Students of the month
The following students were recognized as students of the month for their positive behavior: second-grader Ella Vollendorf, fourth-grader Dexter Dabler, sixth-grader Evan Johnson, seventh-grader Ariel Henney, and eighth-grader Brooke Eckert.
* A closed session was held at the end of the public meeting for the purposes of considering a variety of topics, including supervisory positions, a salary offer from the PEA, mental health support positions, and an employee request. Following the closed session, the board directed district administrator Rick Morgan to have the school's legal counsel review the written request from the PEA.
* The school board took the opportunity to recognize the numerous individuals and organizations who have donated either funding or materials to the district for a variety of programs. These included funding from the Logger United Booster Club to the district's academic clubs, monies raised from the Logger Pump at the Phillips R-Store, funding from the AnnMarie Foundation to go toward nordic skis and equipment for a trout raising project, numerous donations for the food pantry and the elementary 'snack pack' program, among others. Equipment was also received for the Phillips Community Pool.
* The school board approved two out-of-state day trips, including one to the Duluth Aquarium on Oct. 30, and another to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Festival of Nations on May 1, 2020.
Although construction crews are still hustling around the freshly constructed and redesigned facility, Phillips' newest manufacturing company, SRC America, is poised to start work in early November.
The South Korean parent company, SRC Corporation, is a strategic partner with Barry-Wehmiller, locally known as Marquip. SRC creates specially designed metal cylinders called corrugating rolls that are used to shape paper products into cardboard.
In the age of Amazon and online shopping, these rolls are in high demand as companies churn out cardboard boxes used to ship goods all over the world.
Marquip has been in the business of refurbishing these rolls for over a decade. As the rolls are used in the cardboard-making process, their gear-like teeth can become nicked, dulled, or misshapen — resulting in a poor finished product unless they are repaired. Made of high-strength steel, the rolls weigh in at about two tons, and are up to 22 inches in diameter and 130 inches in length — making the refurbishment process quite a challenge.
In the past, only part of the refurbishment process could be completed in Phillips. After being ground down, the rolls had to be finished at other facilities in southern Wisconsin, which delayed the process and also resulted in a loss of control over the product, according to David Valiquette, sales manager for Marquip.
Last year, when the opportunity arose for SRC to open a facility in the U.S., Valiquette saw the chance to bring operations directly to Phillips and invited company president Hyungkeun Yoon to visit Price County last December.
As of early March, the company decided to move forward with purchasing the Phillips Enterprise Center, a business-incubation center owned and operated by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission in partnership with the City of Phillips.
Yoon told the Review in an interview that Phillips has many advantages for being the site of the first American SRC manufacturing company.
Being based in Phillips will allow SRC to have close proximity to one of their major customers in Marquip, as well as offering a large pool of skilled individuals who are familiar with working with corrugating rolls.
"Phillips has a considerably big labor pool for our
business although it is a small town," Yoon said. "Since corrugating rolls are unique it is difficult to find employees who are familiar with [them]. In Phillips, there are hundreds of people who know what corrugating rolls are. It is a huge advantage because we can hire skilled operators with experience, which is almost impossible in other areas."
Yoon also noted that the support of Barry-Wehmiller, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, Price County Economic Development Association, the City of Phillips, and the Phillips Industrial Development Corporation, were critical in creating a successful production facility so far away from his own country of South Korea.
"Without their support and arrangements, it would be impossible to build a production facility," he said.
The business is projected to employ 10 individuals this year, which will likely be doubled by the end of 2020.