Cass County board sets courthouse reopening, mulls pay issues and jail expansion plan
FARGO — The Cass County Commission made several moves involving its response to the coronavirus pandemic during its meeting Monday, June 15, including deciding to open the courthouse in three weeks and to move forward with designs for a new jail intake area.
Board members also discussed rewarding county employees for their dedication during the pandemic, even as the pandemic-battered economy means workers may not get cost of living related pay raises.
Cass County Courthouse
The board agreed to end "appointment only" visits to the courthouse and other county facilities and open up the buildings on Monday, July 6.
County Administrator Robert Wilson said it was largely driven by the decision by the district court to ramp up its hearings this month with the first jury trial set for July 14.
With that move, some county workers will be returning to the courthouse after working remotely to "manage additional foot traffic."
However, Wilson said they should bring back only as many employees working from home as needed as more workers could return in other phases down the road.
Cost of living raises may not happen this year
To recognize the employees who have adjusted to a new work style and with some putting in extra time, the board agreed to give all employees an extra eight hours of personal leave if employed by the county as of April 1.
Commission Chairman Chad Peterson noted that county employees also "didn't walk away" from their jobs and stuck with it over the past three months despite the challenges.
But while the commission plans to provide extra leave and even mulled t-shirts and gift cards to thank workers for their dedication, there is a chance employees may not get a cost of living raise this year.
The U.S. Department of Labor's cost of living index for the Midwest has dropped since the pandemic struck, which in the past has meant the county makes no pay adjustments.
The board tabled a motion on the issue, as Gallagher Benefit Services is also conducting a comprehensive salary survey of all county workers and is preparing recommendations for the county based on the local market.
The last time there was a negative cost of living adjustment was in 2009 and the board then approved no cost of living increase. Some commissioners thought the county should stick to that precedent.
Cass County Jail
In another coronavirus issue, the board voted on an emergency basis to hire an architect to work on expanding the Cass County Jail intake area, where there are concerns about crowding and safety.
The board is waiting to see if the North Dakota Emergency Commission on Thursday will approve possibly as much as $5 million to enlarge the area where prisoners are first taken and where local and federal law officers often congregate.
Wilson said there's been a "massive increase in user load" in the intake facility in the past couple of years.
The catch with the federal CARES Act money given to the states is that it has to be spent by the end of the year, which puts a crunch on getting the job done. For this reason, the board agreed to pursue proceeding with the drawings for the facility, pending legal review.