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Small average WSI rate increase is set

BISMARCK -- North Dakota workers' compensation premiums will rise an average of 2.5 percent starting July 1, with some employers' rates going up and others' going down.

Workforce Safety and Insurance's board OK'd a new rate plan Thursday. The increase is due to an increase in the state's average weekly wage.

No employers' rates will increase or decrease more than 15 percent, said board members and the agency's actuary, Glenn Evans of Wayzata, Minn.

Evans said the premium rate increase is less than wage inflation or health care cost inflation.

A spokesman for one industry active in workers' compensation issues since the 1990s said it was good news.

Thomas Balzer, managing director of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, said the trucking industry annually pays about 10 percent of WSI's total premium dollars.

"I was very pleased, especially in the trucking and hauling class, to see a lower rate," he said.

Trucking and hauling employers will pay $8.44 per $100 of payroll, compared to the current $8.68, a decrease of 2.8 percent.

Balzer said his industry and all others will see an increase in the premium cap due to the state's rising wages, "But we were expecting that."

In North Dakota, employers' premiums are capped at 70 percent of the state's average weekly wage. The cap is rising to match an increase in the state's average weekly wage, with the current cap of $21,300 of an employee's salary increasing to $22,100 on July 1.

Some industries that will see a double-digit percentage increase include commercial farm machinery operations; auto repair and body shops; fertilizer and chemical dealers; dental laboratories, water well drillers; specialized aircraft operations; clerical office employees; banks, savings-and-loans and credit unions; religious organizations and churches, and professional athletics.

Industries with double-digit decreases include consulting engineers; boiler and tank manufacturing; telephone and cable line construction; lumber yard employees; medical and dental clinics, and barbers and beauticians. The lowest rate in the state is 32 cents per $100 of payroll, in switching and switchboard repairing. There are 141 employer classifications in the rates.

Also at Thursday's board meeting:

-Responding to a recommendation in a report by consultants Conolly and Associates received in March, the board will begin meeting six times a year instead of quarterly, starting with a meeting in June. The board has also taken extensive training in its governance method, known as the Carver Model of Board Policy Governance. The Conolly report and the state auditor had criticized the board for having previously adopted the Carver Model but not following it.

-Discussed whether to award premium dividends this year because of its fund surplus. It will decide at its next meeting

-Interim Executive Director Bruce Furness said a new human resources manager was hired May 5. Bob McConnell, previously worked for West River Health Service in Hettinger for six years, and then for St. Joseph's Hospital for a brief period last year before his job was eliminated.

Furness said the agency also is negotiating to hire a new internal audit manager, Erik Jorgenson, who lives in the Twin Cities area and is a former North Dakotan.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.