The Wadena County board reviewed and adjusted County Coordinator/Highway Engineer Ryan Odden's new contract Tuesday, May 21, to a 50/50 split between coordinator and engineer. The change gives Odden a gross annual salary of $111,986.50.

Since hired for the split role, Odden was paid based on a 60% engineer and 40% coordinator wage.

After approving a 70% coordinator and 30% engineer contract with Odden on May 14, several commissioners had mixed feelings about the increase in pay that change created. They initially made that change after hearing from Odden that, based on his calculations he was spending about half of his time on each role and that more time was needed for county coordinator.

Since the county coordinator role is on a higher wage scale, increasing his time in that area meant an increase in pay from his annual pay of $107,182.40 in 2018 to $116,121.50 under the 70/30 split.

Commissioner Jon Kangas checked into area coordinators and found that Hubbard County's full-time coordinator was paid $98,000 a year.

"Every county is unique, every county is different," Commissioner Bill Stearns said in response to Kangas' comparisons. He considered comparing the wage scale of another county as apples to oranges.

Kangas said the change in percentages did cross his mind, but because the actual cost ramifications were not presented at the last board meeting he was not fully aware what actual costs they were incurring with the change.

"What we agreed to last week was a considerable cost to the county without us discussing the actual dollar amounts, that's why I wanted to get a board discussion on it," Kangas said.

Wadena County's wage scale would place a full-time coordinator at a wage of $119,932 annually. On Wadena County's scale that's a grade 60, step 20 at $57.66 an hour.

While commissioners Kangas and Chuck Horsager questioned if they could somehow adjust the wage scale, commissioners Bill Stearns and Jim Hofer said they've been set following a study and recommendation.

Hofer said he agreed on the 70/30 split because it took into consideration that Odden would be taking on work in the Human Resources department, with the resignation of the director in May.

Kangas responded to that, saying that the HR director was paid at a lower salary and the board could be hiring another HR director soon.

Stearns reminded commissioners that Odden indicated the 50/50 split was not adequate. The board wanted him to undergo more training, but he said there was not time for that with the current job expectations.

Kangas was not comfortable going over the 50/50 split. Horsager hoped to see the salary decrease from the 70/30 amount if possible.

In their original action to hire Odden for the split role in April 2018, the board approved reviewing the split position at any time, including the following language, "If at any time the Board determines that the efficiencies and,/or functionality of the dual role of County Engineer/County Coordinator needs to be modified in any way, the County Board shall review all affected job descriptions to ascertain correct job grade classifications (i.e. job descriptions, grades, steps, etc.) and percentage of assigned duties from said changes."

Commissioner Kangas also brought up the pay study from a year ago. He said that study indicated that the coordinator position was one of a few that was being paid over the market pay, about $2.80 an hour higher.

Commissioner Sheldon Monson wanted to see updated data about the actual pay in the region to coordinators and engineers before he could make an informed decision.

Kangas ended up making a motion to move to the 50/50 split, with Horsager and Monson also in favor. Monson requested fresh data within the next couple months. Stearns and Hofer were not in favor, but the motion passed with the majority in favor.

Stearns mentioned that, based on a previous motion, Odden can still contract out for additional highway engineer help as needed.

Also in the discussion, Hofer noted that the likelihood of a full-time administrator position was maybe a year out, a change that would alter this current role again.

In other actions, the board:

• Approved a resolution to enter into a reimbursement agreement with the Department of Public Safety for an amount not to exceed $16,000 for a full-scale disaster exercise in Wadena County currently scheduled for Sept. 14 in Verndale. The exercise would focus on train derailment.

• Heard a Human Services statistics report from Amie Gendron. The board had no questions but commented that usage of services like SNAP and WIC continues to lower compared to 2018. Commissioners surmised that could be attributed to a better economy. A financial report showed that overall the department budget is at 34% usage of the total 33% of the year.

• Heard from Human Services financial assistance supervisor Deb Nelson about the success of eligibility workers to provide timely services. She shared that Wadena County eligibility workers processed 96.4% of cash and SNAP assistance applications in a timely manner, the highest among the five counties in the comparison, including Todd, Morrison, Cass and Crow Wing counties. Wadena County also led the way among those counties for expedited SNAP application processed within one business day, 80.8 percent, the highest performance in the last five years.

• Commissioners went on a brief tour of the lower level of the courthouse space including the new deputy space and work being done in the future IT department. Much discussion was had over the placement of a door that swung in the wrong direction. The board gave consensus to add a wall to separate IT from another space that could serve as two offices or a conference room area in the future. They felt they needed to define the use of the space before committing to more changes. So far the remodeling work has been under budget.

• The board acknowledged Commissioner Stearns will attend the annual NACO conference and exposition July 11-16 in Las Vegas. The board had approved up $2,500 for this trip. Monson said there is great value in this conference.

• In board reports, Hofer noted that Stephanie Johnson, a current Kitchigami employee has been hired as the new director beginning June 1.


Apples to oranges

While the wage scales amongst counties are different animals or fruits, depending on your preference, the difference between Wadena and Hubbard counties are worth noting.

Hubbard County coordinator Eric Nerness is paid $98,380.71 annually. Hubbard County has an annual budget of about $41 million and employs 225 people, with a population of 20,679 and just under 1,000 square miles.

Wadena County's coordinator, under the current wage scale and at full-time, would make $119,932. The county is 543 square miles, with a population of 13,879 and an operating budget of over $24 million. The county employs about 175 full-time, part-time and temporary workers.