BACKUS - The Cass County Board voted Tuesday to change the grade rating for county sheriff's deputies.
The upgrade will increase a starting deputy's wages from $17.21 per hour to $18.26. Maximum deputy wages will increase from $22.47 per hour to $23.84 per hour.
When the county board originally established the current pay plan several years ago, the board also set a rule that reviewing positions prior to a complete re-evaluation of the entire county could only be done if an employee's job duties changed.
Recently, the board established second criteria to be based on whether the wages for a position might be significantly below those paid by neighboring counties for the same or comparable job.
The new ranking for sheriff's deputies is the first change the board made under that new provision for making changes.
When Commissioner Jeff Peterson asked whether this change might lead to many other county employees asking for a similar re-evaluation of their job rank, Administrator Robert Yochum said he looked at that potential for the county's 100 job positions and determined only about 10 percent are at or below comparable job positions in neighboring counties. Some Cass positions are significantly above those in neighboring counties, he added.
Sheriff's deputies are considered essential employees under state law and, thus, may not strike. Wage conflicts go to arbitration instead, Yochum explained. Because some neighboring counties' deputy wages have been set at a higher level through such an arbitration process, counties like Cass whose bargaining units have not gone to arbitration have remained at lower wage levels, Yochum said.
Sheriff Randy Fisher said before Tuesday's board action that Cass deputies had the second-lowest starting wage and lowest maximum wage of any neighboring county.
He said fewer job applicants have sought employment here as a deputy recently, so the civil service potential employee roster has fewer qualified new job applicants. Some who have made that eligibility roster declined Cass job offers, Fisher said. Additionally, two existing deputies recently left Cass County for jobs in neighboring counties because of higher pay there, he said.
Cass will enter pay negotiations this year with all union bargaining units representing county employees for wages in 2008. Yochum said he expects without adjusting deputy wages to make them more comparable to neighboring departments Cass could have expected to have its 2008 deputy wage package appealed to an arbitration determination.
In 2006, Cass County paid deputies $34,764 a year starting wages and had a maximum of $45,384. Had deputies continued at their old pay grade, their 2007 wages would have ranged from $35,796.80 to $46,737.60. The new 2007 grade range will increase their pay to a $37,980.80 per year starting rate, with annual step increases to a $49,587.20 per year maximum after 10 years service.
In 2006, Aitkin County deputy pay range was $31,928.04 to $57,574.40 per year. Beltrami's range was $39,603.12 to $49,524.72. Crow Wing's range was $39,936 to $47,689.56. Hubbard's range was $35,505.60 to $46,321.56. Itasca's range was $38,571.57 to $49,377.59. Morrison's was $36,524.80 to $48,068.80. Todd's was $33,252 to $51,372. Wadena's was $33,155.20 to $47,652.80.
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