After months of debating a new wage scale for city employees, Dickinson City Commissioners voted to freeze wages for the first quarter of 2020 to give themselves more time to make the best decision. Now the decision is being postponed again, possibly for a year, although city employees can expect a cost of living increase in the meantime.

The city originally agreed on a new wage scale for its employees last August, but after receiving complaints from city employees, commissioners voted to have an outside company create its own market comparison study. This wage study proved unpopular with some of the commissioners, leading to the last-minute postponement that pushed the decision to 2020.

After meeting with city staff and receiving their feedback, City Administrator Joseph Gaa brought possible wage scales to the commission.

Commissioner Carson Steiner on Tuesday, Feb. 4, asked what data was used to create the scenarios, and when he found out it was the latest market wage study, he reminded Gaa of his thoughts on the study.

"My concern back then was that it didn't compare job descriptions . . . We never did look into that," Steiner said. "I don't think this was completely broken. I think it probably needed tweaks, which we've done every year, and I've mentioned that we made those changes every year. All of a sudden, we've rolled a small snowball down the hill, and it's getting bigger and bigger and bigger with every turn, every week we try and attack this thing."

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He reiterated that he wanted to compare the city of Dickinson's job descriptions with those in the cities that were compared in the study.

"I don't know how we can approve something that asks for hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional salary without even looking at that. To be honest, if I voted for this here, I would expect to be recalled, with this type of monetary on the table without any information to back up why this position is paid more that this one," Steiner said.

Commissioner Sarah Trustem agreed with Steiner's metaphor.

"I think we started this process with the best intentions, and it's truly kind of evolved into an unprecedented monster, if you will . . . If we're going to do this process and do it right, we need to do everything that it takes to make it efficient," she said. "Reviewing job descriptions, I think there's a lot of fairness in one department saying, 'It's hard to weigh us against other communities when our jobs are very different than what we do.'"

Commissioners decided not to use the most recent study and instructed Gaa to write a request for proposal for a company to complete a more thorough wage study.

"I will present that to them at the next meeting (Tues., Feb. 18) to send it out to consultants. This is going to take awhile. At that same meeting, I will bring them back some options for a cost of living (increase) for 2020," he said.

Unlike the last study, this market comparison will consider differences in job descriptions among Dickinson and its competing cities.

"It will be reviewing our classification system, job descriptions, comparing us to other market cities and really making recommendations on improving our current pay plan," Gaa said.

Gaa said he anticipates the process taking another year.