Dickinson City Commissioners met Tuesday night for a work session to discuss the latest wage study, which found that some positions were being compensated as much as 40% above market and as low as 16% below market.
As previously reported by The Press, the city conducted its own wage study to create Option D for 2020's wage scale, but the commission voted to have an outside consultant review the resulting wage scale against the market.
Mayor Scott Decker questioned the validity of the latest study.
"These are not accurate discrepancies. This is not apples to apples. You can’t have one job have 21 sources of information and another one have three and say that’s apples to apples," he said.
Fridrich said that you won't find five cities with all of the same positions Dickinson has, meaning an exact apples to apples comparison isn't possible. He also doesn't believe the margin of error is great enough to account for the large gap between market and the city's proposed salary in the case of some positions.
Decker was concerned that some outliers were drastically skewing the data, particularly information from ND Job Service Employment and Wages by Occupation.
For one of the sources, "There's one position where it's above what the market is. Every other position on there is way below the average. It just throws the whole average off," he said.
Ray Ann Kilen of RKilen Consulting completed the most recent wage study. She agreed with Decker.
"You're spot on with that. It's the North Dakota Job Service average reporting that considers all industries . I wasn't really comfortable using the job service information, but it was information that was available," Kilen said.
Commissioner Sarah Trustem suggested the commission receive a revised report with major outliers removed.
Commissioner Carson Steiner pointed out that the although other cities may have the same job titles, our positions may require more work of the employee, and they may not have the same responsibilities.
"You can’t say we’re $4 lower here and $6 lower there and not bring up what this job entails," he said. "That’s what we’re missing here. It’s a good base indicator, but no one’s really talked about why are they so much higher in one position than we are, and why are we so much higher than they are?"
Commissioner Jason Fridrich suggested the commission take a look at specific positions that are way outside of market and for any that are 0-15% outside of market, make adjustments.
"Here's one grade 7. I'm not going to name any positions. It went from $26.99 to in August $38 or in option D $37 — $11 an hour, that's $20,000+ a year increase. That's just to start ... We've switched to a better benefits plan this year. We've done a health stipend this year. Now we raise almost every salary in the city ... Where does it stop? The people that elect us to come here want to make sure that we're taking care of their money," he said.
Fridrich said he can't defend the proposed wage scale.
"I came in here today totally comfortable with 0-15% (of market) ... I can live with that. Any more than that, I can't live with. I just don't feel it's responsible," he said.
City Administrator Joe Gaa asked the commission about the numbers: Even if the numbers are accurate, and the city is paying some positions at a higher level than it would like, is it worth it?
"This is a very difficult market. We’re in a national work shortage … We’re in one of the worst situations in the nation, so do we really have room to start worrying about we’re paying people too much? It might be a public steward of that, but what if you don’t have anybody to fill those positions, then how do you answer the citizens?"
Fridrich and Trustem both said that they would like to review some of the positions that are paid above market wage. Fridrich said that if a position that is way over market is a hard one to fill, maybe it's worth it to pay that, but they should have a discussion about it.
Decker recommended that they approve the current pay scale for the first quarter of 2020 and look at the scale again next budget session. In the regular city commission meeting, Decker and Steiner voted for that option.
Fridrich and Trustem said they wanted to have a new wage scale approved for 2020 by the end of this year. They, along with Nicole Wolla, voted to have Kilen remove the ND Job Service Employment and Wages by Occupation data from the wage study and resubmit the report for the commission's review Monday during a workshop.