Ontonagon County to offer academy tuition for service

Kali Katerberg/ Daily Mining Gazette Sheriff Dale Rantala addresses the Ontonagon County Board on Tuesday regarding potential new hires.

ONTONAGON — The County Board addressed several subjects at its Tuesday meeting, including additional deputies for the sheriff’s office, acceptance of a grant to provide technology services to veterans and consideration on joining an opioid litigation mass-action lawsuit of municipal and local governments and the partial resolution of an unexpected bill.

Sheriff Dale Rantala expressed a difficulty finding officers to fill the number five and six deputy positions.

“I’ve hired three people that leave,” Rantala explained.

To combat this he requested the board sponsor a candidate for the fifth position, sending the individual to the police academy for certification.

The cost would be paid in exchange for a commitment of five years of service in the area, or the cost of tuition would have to be paid back if the individual left the department before the contract was up, Rantala said.

The incentive was used with a previous candidate. Rantala already has a candidate in mind he had previously interviewed.

The council unanimously approved the plan, along with a request to fill the sixth position with a corrections officer, making scheduling easier and allowing for better road and jail coverage.

In other topics, Prosecuting Attorney Mike Findlay suggested the board explore the possibility of joining the opioid case litigation.

“I don’t think we have anything to lose,” Findlay said.

He explained if the county did involve itself, any costs incurred would come from the settlement and be reliant on the success of the case.

The commissioners unanimously approved a request for an engagement letter to learn more and hear from a representative involved in the case, perhaps at the next meeting.

The unexpected probation officer phone bill was partially resolved with the board voting to cancel the landline and pursue more information on the unpaid three months of service.

The phone line in question is used by the Circuit Court Probation Officer, who is employed by the Department of Corrections (DOC) and works a few days a week out of the Ontonagon Courthouse. The bill has been traditionally paid by the DOC but a surprise bill was sent before the start of the new year.

“They used a 1980 attorney general’s opinion that counties were responsible for paying for basically the costs of the local DOC operations in their counties. However, before I’d gotten here…the DOC was still paying the phone bill,” Findlay said.

No one in attendance could recall a time when the DOC did not pay the expense.

By cutting the landline cost the probation officer would use their own cell phone, Findlay explained.

Commissioner Gray Webber suggested the board look further into the change and determine who was responsible for the outstanding phone bill and the payment change itself.

The board also formally accepted a $5,000 technology grant for the veterans office.