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WSI to ask staff increase be restored

BISMARCK - The Workforce Safety and Insurance board voted Wednesday to ask the Legislature to put back into their budget 15 proposed new employees. Gov. John Hoeven cut out the proposed new WSI employees in his 2007-09 budget. WSI announced on De...

BISMARCK - The Workforce Safety and Insurance board voted Wednesday to ask the Legislature to put back into their budget 15 proposed new employees.

Gov. John Hoeven cut out the proposed new WSI employees in his 2007-09 budget.

WSI announced on Dec. 7 that it is addressing morale problems. Its efforts include hiring more claims analysts and safety experts.

Those divisions are understaffed and overworked, said WSI officials, citing a consultant with Octagon Services that recently evaluated the agency.

WSI is the state workers compensation agency.

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Unbeknownst to WSI, the budget Hoeven unveiled to legislators on Dec. 6 had removed the planned new employees from the agency's proposed budget. WSI officials did not know until after their Dec. 7 press conference announcement that the positions had been deleted.

WSI spokesman Mark Armstrong said that when WSI officials met with Hoeven's chief of staff, Bill Goetz, about their budget, he asked if the additional employees, also called "FTEs," would cause a rate increase.

WSI told Goetz that would happen only in a "worst-case scenario," Armstrong said Wednesday.

WSI actually expects additional safety officers to more than pay for themselves in preventing expensive claims, Armstrong said. Preventing one lost-time work injury saves the WSI fund $45,000, he said. The proposed six new loss prevention employees would each be paid between $40,000 and $60,000 per year, according to WSI's original budget proposal.

Hoeven's budget director, Pam Sharp, said it is common for state agencies to ask the Legislature to restore things to proposed budgets that governors have removed and they have every right to do that.

Readers can reach Forum Communications reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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