FARGO — Tension began building last year between the city of Fargo and the Fargo Municipal Airport Authority after the airport authority proposed giving a raise to its executive director, Shawn Dobberstein.
The tension showed no signs of dissipating Monday night, June 10, when airport authority members met with Mayor Tim Mahoney and other city officials, who presented the airport authority with a proposal that calls for making it clear, once and for all, that airport employees will be considered city employees and lays out a plan for setting the pay level for top airport officials.
The airport authority was established in 1969 and its precise relationship with the city became murky over the years, especially after 1979, when, according to the city, an agreement that had existed between the city and airport authority expired.
Airport officials maintain the agreement is still in effect.
Since then, airport authority workers have continued to be included in the city's pension plan, but airport officials maintain that hiring and firing of workers is the purview of the authority, not the city.
Also, the city has increased what it charges the airport authority for services, recently boosting that charge from about $50,000 to more than $90,000 and prompting talk from the airport authority about going with alternative vendors for some services the city provides.
As part of the proposal presented Monday, city officials said airport workers would "remain" city employees, while the airport's executive director would answer to the airport authority, the City Commission and the city administrator.
Also under the city's proposal, the hiring, firing and disciplining of airport workers would be the responsibility of the airport authority.
The proposal calls for setting the compensation package for the airport executive director position in 2019 at a maximum of about $168,000, including a $900 annual vehicle allowance and the use of a city-issued cellphone.
City officials said the proposed compensation plan was based on a survey of airport executive pay around the country.
Last year, the airport authority proposed boosting Dobberstein's compensation package from the current level of about $168,000 — which includes a $9,600 annual vehicle allowance and an annual phone allowance of $2,400 — to a total compensation package of about $220,000 by 2020.
City officials stressed Monday that if the airport decides to go with health insurance coverage other than what is provided by the city it would likely mean between $48,000 and $136,000 in greater cost to the authority.
For airport workers, city officials said going with insurance other than the city's health insurance plan would likely mean $190 more each month for single coverage and $457 more a month for family coverage.
The city also stressed that in order to be a part of the city employee pension someone must be a city employee.
City officials said they would like to see a new memorandum of understanding between the city and the airport authority by Aug. 1.
Airport authority members on Monday questioned whether airports included in the survey the city used to come up with its pay plan for airport executives were comparable to Hector International Airport.
Authority Chairman Mike Haugen also questioned whether the city's proposal ran counter to what state law requires of the airport authority.
Airport authority members were noncommittal regarding the city's presentation, and as the meeting wrapped up Haugen told city officials the authority would "digest" the proposal.