FARGO — With 14 openings and the number of applicants down for correctional officers or deputies at the Cass County Jail, a starting pay increase has been approved.

Cass County commissioners voted unanimously on Monday, June 21, to boost pay from $19.35 an hour to $20.86, which previously was the pay after new employees completed a year on the job and completed required training.

The raise of 7.75% takes effect July 1.

Sheriff Jesse Jahner said they have challenges recruiting and retaining jail staff, adding he hoped the raise would help.

In comparison to other entry-level law enforcement salaries in the area, jail staff was on the lower end.

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Jahner told the Cass County Commission the raise would likely have about a $30,000 effect on the department's budget this year.

After the meeting, Jahner said they have about 120 jail staff who work around the clock.

With 14 vacancies, he said, it's difficult to fill some shifts. He said they've been down that many jobs before, but a dramatic fall in the number of applicants is concerning.

Three employees recently retired and two are deployed with the National Guard for a year, Jahner said, which is one reason for some of the recent openings.

However, some left for other jobs. The reasons provided for leaving are many, he said, including joining other area police departments, going into probation positions, joining firefighting or police training or deciding that the job "wasn't for me."

In another personnel matter, the board considered extending advertising to replace County Finance Director Mike Montplaisir, who is retiring in early August after a long career in what used to be the elected auditor position.

However, the county received a few last minute applications, so they will go ahead with a review of approximately eight applicants and set up interviews. One of the earlier concerns was that there were not enough applicants with public sector experience.

Montplaisir, who is also in charge of elections, wanted to have some time to help train the new director before stepping down.

County Administrator Robert Wilson said the county, "like everyone else," is experiencing some degree of difficulty in hiring in what he described as a "tight labor market."