Cass County board debates salaries for next year

The Cass County Courthouse in October 2016.
The Cass County Courthouse in Fargo . Forum file photo

FARGO — As far as salaries go for the 440 Cass County employees next year, one thing is for certain.

They won't get a cost of living increase as the U.S. Department of Labor is estimating in the Midwest a consumer price index decrease of .7%.

The county commissioners on Tuesday afternoon, July 21, voted unanimously to forego those pay increases for 2021.

However, after reviewing a consultant's comprehensive salary survey completed this summer, the commissioners are considering boosting pay for those who are lagging behind others in similar public and private jobs in the region and also continuing to give employees step increases that are in the 3.5% range per worker.

The step increases are given to workers on their hiring anniversaries only after a favorable review from supervisors.


County Finance Director Mike Montplaisir said the step increases could amount to about $262,000 next year.

However, he has plugged in about another $1 million for salary and benefit increases next year if the commissioners choose to do the most expensive option suggested by their consultant.

That's unlikely after Tuesday's meeting, although the commissioners seemed to favor spending some funds to boost salaries for the jobs that were way behind in the survey salary examination.

The payroll study conducted by consulting firm Gallagher Benefit Services of Minneapolis looked at 12 public sector organizations, including the cities of Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo and the counties of Clay in Minnesota, Minnehaha (Sioux Falls) and Pennington (Rapid City) in South Dakota as well as other regional counties.

The consulting firm also examined four private sector pay surveys.

They found that the county lags in pay for some of those at the top and bottom of the pay scale, but was sitting "pretty well" in the middle ranges of pay.

Overall, the study determined the county is "highly competitive" with the public sector and the combined public and private sector surveys for salaries.

As far as benefits, though, county commission chairman Chad Peterson said the county was "second to none" and the study found the county was leading in their contributions in most areas of employee benefits.


However, the county did lag in sick and bereavement days.

As for those employees lagging in pay, one of the most glaring shortcomings was for county deputies and correctional officers as well as some department heads.

Deputies were about 18% behind the market median at $52,840 compared to $65,000 in the survey. Correctional officers were about 6% behind at $44,124 compared to $47,111 in the survey.

Also behind in pay were the human resources director (-34%), county recorder (-16%), county administrator (-9%) and IT director (-21%).

Commissioners Ken Pawluk and Rick Steen led the charge in favor of boosting the lagging salaries this year but then waiting until next year to look into adjusting salary ranges to bring them more in line with the survey results and following the suggestions of the consultants.

"We have friends and neighbors who are laid off during the pandemic," Pawluk said, adding he didn't think the county could afford to do both.

Steen agreed and said they should focus on the employees who are especially lagging way behind, noting some are falling behind as much as in the negative 20% range.

Montplaisir, however, said some county workers may be in their early years of employment with the county and that's why they may be showing up on the lower end in the study.


The county commissioners will be meeting with each county department head to discuss their budgets for next year the rest of this week and they hoped they could settle on some salaries that have a big effect on individual department budgets.

Wilson said the commissioners will likely set some "working figures" on budgets this week and possibly make progress on salaries. The final budget figures won't be set until fall.

The commissioners agreed it was "complicated" to figure out where and how to make the adjustments other than the step increases.

The study also included looking at county commissioner pay scales, but nothing was determined in that area either, although they are looking at a form of per diem that would pay commissioners for extra meetings they attend plus a salary for regular meetings and duties. The new model would be similar to how Clay County in Minnesota pays its commissioners in the hybrid model.

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