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Dickinson city employees: We're not paid enough

Dickinson city employees are not satisfied with the payment they receive for the jobs they do, according to a city survey, and the local government may need to make financial changes on a "grand scale" to keep its workers, officials said.

"It's been a real struggle, and in some departments worse than others," City Administrator Shawn Kessel said Tuesday at a Dickinson City Commission meeting at City Hall.

Dickinson's government has fallen behind the compensation market during an oil boom in western North Dakota, which has caused high rent, inflated wages and a low unemployment rate in Stark County.

More than 75 percent of public sector workers took the survey, and 66 of 105 said they were not paid fairly for the work they do. Almost 80 said they were not satisfied with the pay structure, and more than 50 said they considered leaving city employment in the last six months.

Administration has also received 80 percent less applicants for job offers compared to 2009.

Employees in Stark County averaged yearly salaries of almost $50,800 last year, according to North Dakota Job Services headquartered in Bismarck. The mining industry paid its workers more than $97,700 a year. Dickinson street operators, police, building inspectors and firefighters make between $30,900 and $47,000. Compared to Williston, Minot and Mandan, Dickinson pays out the lowest salaries for those occupations, according to its staffing compensation plan.

In the last six months, the city hired 20 employees, bringing its turnover rate to 15 percent, according to the report.

"People leave for various reasons," Dickinson Police Department Chief Dustin Dassinger said after the meeting. "Any increase would definitely help us both in our recruitment efforts and also our retention of current employees."

All but eight employees said their job was satisfying and could take pride in the work they do.

The loss of experienced employees has also hurt the city, Commissioner Carson Steiner said.

"We're relatively young for city staffing here," he said. "We need to grow the longevity of our staff. It's a priority."

Retention and hiring needs to be at the top of the list, commissioners said, but the city has more "top priority" issues than it has money for.

"The Legislature goes into session next year," he said. "We have to lobby hard for an increase in financial support."

Kessel suggested increasing the cost of living adjustment by at least 7 percent across the board.

The city could pull funds from state grants, fee-based revenue and crew camp annual fees.

In other news, the commissioners unanimously accepted three low bids equaling $29.95 million for a wastewater reclamation facility. It also accepted concrete in lieu of asphalt for an additional $193,000.

The current treatment system has been pushed to the limit and needs to be replaced, officials previously told The Dickinson Press. Johnson congratulated everyone that was involved in the project, adding a lot of work has gone into it.

"This is a project we have worked on for a long time," he said. "I think it is remarkable that the bids came in as close as they did."

Completion is slated for 2014.