County struggles with raises for employees, keeping spending down

Louise Oleson Journal Managing Editor
Jim Chattin (standing) from the Lake Region Piublic Library submits his budget to the Ramsey County Commission.

It won’t be an easy decision whatever the Ramsey County Commission decides as they struggle with the issue of raises for county employees, bringing them up to where they should have been all along versus keeping spending down so taxpayers will see property tax relief.

Though the commission clearly wants to make everybody happy, that may not be possible this time.

For many county employees who didn’t get raises for a number of years they are way below where they should be - salary wise, according to the county’s Human Resources Coordinator Tanya Wieler.

She did an extensive study of counties of similar size and composition and found that Ramsey County is not keeping pace with market values.

In Weiler’s investigation she found that some county employees were at or near the wage they should be, where others were far below that level.

“Our goal is to save taxpayers as much as possible while still taking care of our employees,” Commissioner Ed Brown said.

The special meeting, which took place Monday morning from 8 to 10:10 a.m. addressed these major budget items.

No decisions were made, but as part of the budget preparation process the County Auditor Elizabeth Fischer will run the numbers and create a spread sheet using the actual numbers for the commissioners to study.

“We have to get our employees up to where they should be but we also need to take a look at how much we have to spend and keep our promise to the taxpayers to keep our expenses tight,” Commission President Bill Mertens said.

The actual budget must be finalized by the first commission meeting in October.

“This is going to take some work,” Mertens said, “we want to be fair to everybody.”

In the hearing that accompanied the most recent regularly scheduled commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21, a delegation of taxpayers challenged the commission to be as frugal as possible to give property owners a break as valuations continue to rise to unprecedented levels.

One member of the taxpayer delegation even made the suggestion that the commission give up their health insurance since not all of the commissioners are eligible for it any longer and future members of the commission will not be covered when they are elected to the board. It would potentially mean a hefty savings in the county’s budget.

He also reminded the commission that most part time employees don’t get insurance paid for by their employers and serving on the county commission was considered part time employment.

This was not discussed at the special meeting held Monday morning, however, three members of that group of taxpayers were present at Monday’s meeting listening to the discussion.

Other business

Also taking place at the meeting were three budget submissions.

Chris Schilken from Forward Devils Lake presented his budget pointing out where his budget differed from the previous year’s.

Jim Chattin from the Lake Region Public Library submitted his 2013 budget.

Earl Hanson from the Veterans Service office also submitted his budget and informed the commission that he was thinking of retiring some time in the year ahead. “That’s not official, yet, but I want to let you know it might be coming up. I want to see the clinic established here, first, that’s one of my main goals, so we will see what happens. It’s supposed to be coming in fiscal year 2013 and that begins in October. They’ve had the appropriations money since 2004,” he said.

Go to www.co.ramsey.nd.us for more information about these items or the Ramsey County Commission.