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Inflation reaches highest rate in 40 years as Dunn County approves merit and COLA increases for 2023 budget

The Dunn County Commission met Wednesday, with deliberations focused primarily on a performance merit plan and cost of living adjustment and what that could mean for county employees in 2023.

Dunn County Auditor/Treasurer Tracey Dolezal weighs in on the 2023 budget cycle during the Dunn County Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at the Dunn County Courthouse in Manning, North Dakota.
Dunn County Auditor/Treasurer Tracey Dolezal weighs in on the 2023 budget cycle during the Dunn County Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at the Dunn County Courthouse in Manning, North Dakota.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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MANNING, N.D. — During a regularly scheduled meeting, the Dunn County Commission met Wednesday at the Dunn County Courthouse to review 2023 budget items, including approval of a performance merit plan and cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase. The commission will deliberate again in early August for preliminary approval of the 2023 overall budget.

By meeting end, the Dunn County Commission unanimously approved the performance merit plan, which will include an average increase of 2.5% on the pay scale, as well as a COLA increase of 6.5% — both measures will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Dunn County Human Services Director Dessie Calihou, who brought these agenda items to the commissioners, provided input on the impact the increases will have for county employees and retention.

“... The performance piece affects how I, as an employee, move through my designated pay scale,” Calihou said, noting that it’s performance-based and it will vary from employee to employee.

In a phone interview with The Dickinson Press, Calihou noted that if all employees performed at that satisfactory level, the average increase would be 2.5%.

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“Let’s say you’re an employee for the county, and you receive your performance review. That performance review has a score and then that score is applied to the merit plan. And then your increase, based on merit, is determined that way,” she explained.

Though the 2023 changes are still being reviewed for final approval, the overall payroll adjustment would set a county payroll budget in excess of $650,000, according to Dunn County Auditor/Treasurer Tracey Dolezal.

“... We’re not talking a huge amount of dollars here, and the total cost is $163,000. By adjusting it a little bit, (it) doesn’t make much difference. But it does make a difference to the employee who has worked really hard and they’re going to get (a) relatively small merit increase,” Dolezal said to the board of commissioners. “It’s a lot of work going into this with that lower percentage. And the overall picture doesn’t make much difference.”

Looking for departmental feedback, the commission opened the floor for department heads to provide input on the importance of a performance merit plan. Sheriff Gary Kuhn addressing the issue, noted that the incentive for employees to do better at their jobs and continue to improve will benefit the county and retention.

“I think that it would be more disappointing if we didn’t follow through with it because we put a lot of time and effort into this study… It’s all about us, as a department, as being consistent and I think we’re all willing to do that and we’re willing to communicate with one another,” Kuhn said. “... I think it’s not going to be a huge impact, but it is the only form of giving an employee a raise that this county has ever had, as long as I’ve been here in town. So a cost of living adjustment is not a raise… It gives you (a) personal stake in this line of work. So you know that it’s your responsibility to do a good job out there if you want to get a raise.”

During the meeting, Dunn County Commission Vice Chair JoAnn Marsh addressed the board of commissioners, giving her praise to the committee that has worked on performance reviews.

“It started with nothing. And the first year was a bit of a struggle; it was a struggle for everybody from supervisors to everyone that participated. But I think going from ground zero to where we are today, I think we’ve made great strides. And you have to appreciate the fact that the county has stepped up to do this, because it’s a difficult process. It’s difficult for the people that have to make the decisions,” Marsh said.

The motion was unanimously approved, following an amendment stipulating that merit pay evaluations come with annual reviews.

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Currently, the inflation rate continues to climb nationally and reached the highest numbers in four decades at 9.1% — exceeding the November 1981 record high, according to the Trading Economics website .

For 2022, the Dunn County Commission approved a 3% COLA and 1% step — totaling a 4% overall wage increase, Dolezal said in a phone interview. By Aug. 3, Dolezal is hoping to have most of the 2023 budget finalized and she will then have a better understanding of what the 6.5% COLA and 2.5% step increases will have on the overall budget.

“As far as total budget, we don’t know yet because we haven’t finished the rest of the budget. This is an increase in the payroll budget, but when we put it all together, we still don’t know the impact,” Dolezal added.

Dunn County Commission Daryl Dukart listens on during the Dunn County Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Dunn County Commission Daryl Dukart listens on during the Dunn County Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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“There’s a little bit of something for everyone. You come with your family, your kids can find something, the moms can find something, the dads can find something,” Jessica Quandt, owner of JQ Clothing, said.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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