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Funds OK’d for overtime, temporary help in N.D. secretary of state’s office

BISMARCK - Secretary of State Al Jaeger got permission Wednesday to move more money into his budget for overtime and temporary staff as his office continues to experience what he called "unprecedented" demand for services brought on by North Dako...

BISMARCK – Secretary of State Al Jaeger got permission Wednesday to move more money into his budget for overtime and temporary staff as his office continues to experience what he called “unprecedented” demand for services brought on by North Dakota’s thriving economy.

Jaeger said he also has requested six new full-time employees in his budget request to the governor for the 2015-2017 biennium.

“The volume of business that we are continuing to have is very, very strong,” he said.

The state Emergency Commission, of which Jaeger is a member, approved his request Wednesday to transfer $150,000 in operating funds into the line item for salaries and wages to cover the costs of higher-than-anticipated overtime and temporary staff.

Democrats criticized Jaeger for his controversial decision in April 2012 to shorten his office’s window hours by three hours to give his staff uninterrupted time to process business registrations and contractor license applications. The Legislature’s Budget Section approved three full-time employees to help the office catch up with paperwork, and the office returned to regular hours by September 2012.

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Jaeger said the three additional full-timers “definitely have helped,” noting the average turnaround time for business registrations has decreased from five to six weeks in 2012 to about three weeks currently.

But he said it’s still been necessary to pay overtime and have six to seven temporary staff on hand for functional support, allowing the full-timers to focus on processing business registrations and licenses.

More than 13,000 hours of overtime totaling about $204,000 have been paid to 27 employees during the first 13 months of the current biennium as filings continue to stream into the office, he said.

The office handled 7,375 new business registration filings during the first six months of this year, up from 3,895 during the same period in 2010 but down from the peak of 8,806 during the same period in 2012, according to statistics Jaeger presented to the commission. Last year’s total of 14,742 business registration filings was down 11.5 percent from 2012’s total of 16,652. The number of active contractor licenses also has more than doubled, he said.

“It isn’t just the oil,” he said. “This is all over the state.”

Jaeger’s Democratic opponent in the November election, former state lawmaker April Fairfield of Bismarck, said Jaeger is “in denial about the new normal,” and that his reliance on overtime and temporary employees “isn’t really a very good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“Continuing to come to the Legislature or the Emergency Commission or whomever and say this is unprecedented so we need to do this, at some point he’s going to have to realize that this is going to be the state of business in North Dakota for some time to come,” she said, adding that on a positive note, “At least he isn’t closing the doors.”

Jaeger said he’s hoping the six additional full-time positions he’s requested will draw quality applicants to deal with the important documents the office handles and eliminate the need to rely on a “very, very slim” pool of temporary workers.

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“Essentially we’re asking for the equivalent of what we’ve been using for temporary help,” he said.

The $150,000 transfer approved Wednesday will come from the office’s general services special fund, also known as the “retail” fund because it’s supported by revenue the office makes through selling services such as lists, lien information and subscriptions, Jaeger said.

The commission also approved $7,000 from a state contingency fund to cover the cost of reviewing petition signatures for four initiated measures on the November ballot. The contingency funds are on top of an $8,000 budget appropriation for that purpose. Jaeger noted the four initiated petitions reviewed by his office included a constitutional measure that required 26,904 signatures to get on the ballot, twice as many as a statutory measure.

The Nov. 4 ballot will have eight measures in all – the most since June 1996 – including four brought by the 2013 Legislature.

 

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

Related Topics: AL JAEGER
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