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Dickinson officials debate best way to hire help

It will cost Dickinson an estimated $38,000 to hire the help it needs to oversee the construction of a public works building, a cost associated with contracting an employee of KLJ rather than hiring another city staff position.

The city's engineering and planning departments share an administrative assistant, who spends most of their time in city planning. In order to rectify this, City Administrator Shawn Kessel asked the City Commission to add another full-time assistant for planning, which would place the original assistant back in engineering.

"This would mean a difference this year of about $15,000," Kessel said. "Next year it would be a difference of $25,000 and $30,000."

City staff, especially those in planning, public works and engineering, are strained as Dickinson grows, but the city is debating the best way to get the help it needs during a building boom, help that it might not need later on.

Public Works Director Gary Zuroff requested approval from the City Commission of the contract with KLJ because neither he nor his staff has the time to dedicate to that project.

The architect on the project, Husling and Associates, is doing weekly checks, but that is not enough for the $14 million project.

"I think it's pertinent that we have somebody there overseeing the construction," Zuroff said.

The commission unanimously approved Zuroff's request on June 17, but questioned how to manage future infrastructure projects.

"If you try to cover too much with employees, then you end up in a position where one day you're over-staffed," Mayor Dennis Johnson said.

Contracting costs more, but it may be the answer to deal with the city's growth spurt.

"If somebody's going to accept (contracted) employment, that means they're probably going to rent as opposed to buying," Kessel said. "We all know the rental environment in our community right now. Whatever wages we're willing to pay are going to have to reflect that environment."

Kessel and City Attorney Matt Kolling are hired on a contract basis directly by the city, but Kessel isn't sure how that type of employment would translate into other positions.

"The pros of that are the time-limited nature of the hire," Kessel said. "The con is usually you pay a little more."

It may cost more up front, but contracting from third parties can save the city money in the long-term.

"You pay a little higher cost, but you have a known time frame," Kessel said. "Our development that's going on in Dickinson -- we're extremely busy right now. What I can't tell you is how busy we're going to remain for the next two, three, five or 10 years."

Hiring and retaining entry-level positions has been the city's biggest challenge, Kessel said.

"Police officer positions have been really difficult for us to fill," Human Resources Coordinator Shelly Nameniuk said. "The other positions are more in the public works department."

Keeping them filled is the issue, Nameniuk said.

"We need all the help we can get in filling them," Kessel said of position with the city. "We try to make it as easy as possible. Our applications are available online, I believe you can fill them all out online, submit them online. We are doing our best to try to make it an easy process."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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