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Dunn County has trouble retaining road crews; may increase wages

MANNING -- Dunn County officials discussed increasing road department wages during a meeting at the Dunn County Courthouse on Wednesday morning.

The increase was proposed to make the road department more efficient in the wake of turnover and competition with energy jobs, officials said.

Auditor Reinhard Hauck said that road department wages start at $16 per hour and reach around $21 after five years experience.

Hauck said roads are "beat up," mostly due to oil field traffic. He added that the county was lacking manpower could be alleviated by a salary boost.

"We are faced this year with some reasonable salary increases just because of what the energy industry has forced upon us," Commission Chairman Daryl Dukart said. "To stay competitive and maintain a nucleus of good employees we will have to give some reasonable increases."

Hauck said if an increase was instated it would affect the budget which would in turn affect the tax rates, but it would also affect taxpayers if the services were not completed.

A combination of full-time and part-time workers makes up the road department.

Road Superintendent Mike Zimmerman said there are open positions but it has been very difficult to attract applicants because the wages are not competitive. He suggested increasing salaries $1 per hour.

Dukart said that he "doesn't think that increasing the salary by a dollar would create an attractive atmosphere."

Zimmerman said that benefits offered to full-time employees equate to about $6 per hour, but "people are more interested in the cash in hand."

Dukart said that if more part-time employees were hired, they would be able to increase salaries without as much consequence to the budget because the county would save money by not paying for benefits.

Part of the trouble with keeping employees is there is only seasonal need for part-timers, Zimmerman said.

"It is all work we need in the summer, but what do we do with them during the winter," he said.

Commissioner Robert Kleemann said there should be ample mechanical work to be done on equipment and that it would be a benefit to hire experienced technicians.

Dunn and surrounding counties have had difficulty keeping quality employees because after completion of training they move on to higher-paying, readily-available jobs in the oil field, Zimmerman said after the meeting.

One way to make the available staff more cohesive would be to open a centralized shop, Zimmerman said, because the county is separated into three districts and that complicates operations.

"What I see is three counties within a county," he said, adding that using specialized crews to work throughout the county would be easier to organize.

The number of employees needed was unclear after the discussion. Hauck said that will make it difficult during budget time.

Hauck said the staff numbers determine the numbers for insurance and social security matching and adding employees makes the budget muddled.

"We are at the point that we have grown too fast and too much," Hauck said. "We need to get a handle on that."

Dukart suggested forming a committee with two Commission members to accompany Hauck and Zimmerman in addressing road department concerns.