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Social services budget reduced

Cass County's social services board lopped more than $500,000 off its original budget proposal this week to meet the demands of county commissioners.

Cass County's social services board lopped more than $500,000 off its original budget proposal this week to meet the demands of county commissioners.

As a result, the Social Services Department won't hire any of the six new employees it had originally asked for, said Kathy Hogan, the department's director.

"We're going to have some challenging times, because caseloads are increasing," she said.

The department also won't get new equipment, such as couches, television and VCR sets and printers, Hogan said.

The department originally asked for a budget of $9.7 million.

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County commissioners asked the department to plan for a budget of $8.35 million, the same as the year before.

About one-third of the county's budget goes to the Social Services Department.

In an Aug. 12 meeting, commissioners struck three employee positions from the proposed social services budget.

The department's board members eliminated another 3.5 positions Tuesday at a board meeting, Hogan said.

"No new employees" is the county-wide mantra this year due to across-the-board salary raises for county employees, she said.

But some social service workers may not get salary increases like other county employees, even while having to absorb an extra workload.

A state-mandated cap on North Dakota social workers' salaries prevents Cass County from raising some salaries.

The salary-cap legislation is left over from the 1940s, when the state tried to protect social service employees from biases or political promotions, Hogan said.

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Based on advice recently received from a state attorney, the director of the state's Central Personnel Department said she's authorized to exempt certain employees from the salary cap.

But Laurie Sterioti Hammeren said she needs more information about social workers' salaries in similar markets before deciding which employees can receive raises.

"We have to look at the whole picture," Sterioti Hammeren said.

And she said she doesn't have the authority to grant blanket exceptions to the law, which would allow the county to pay social service workers at the same rate as other county employees.

The real solution is long-term and includes changing legislation, Sterioti Hammeren said.

Cass County and the state personnel department are trying to work together, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Lisa Schneider at (701) 241-5529

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