Wadena County moves to new pay grid

The grid categorizes positions with grades based on job descriptions. Employees also have steps which are based on experience and county work anniversaries.

Man doing finances and calculate about cost to real estate inves
Wadena County's new pay grid follows a classification and compensation study by DDA Human Resources.
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WADENA — After nearly two years, Wadena County commissioners moved forward a new pay grid for county employees.

While the grid landed as one item on their agenda, commissioners discussed pay implications in three other discussions including the notification of a new hire, a licensed deputies labor contract and a non-union compensation schedule. The grid categorizes positions with grades based on job descriptions. Employees also have steps which are based on experience and county work anniversaries.

The grid includes a range of grades 1-26 from the old grid of grades 45-60. One-third of employees ranged in the 50 grades with only the coordinator ranked at grade 60. The new classification system also includes a non-union compensation schedule for 2022-2024 with the highest expected costs at a 4% increase for 2023 and 2024.

Most employees viewed the grid for the first time this April, though the board viewed it in September 2020 . Department leaders have worked on updating job descriptions and employees filled out questionnaires on their job duties to help DDA Human Resources set the pay grade in spring 2020. Eighty-five jobs were re-written with the DDA classification and compensation study.

Job descriptions will be reviewed annually according to a contract the board previously approved with DDA. County coordinator Ryan Odden said errors in job descriptions are highlighted and shared with DDA as they are found. Updated job descriptions help decide the pay grade. The county also hopes to add job descriptions on the Human Resources tab of their website.


“In the existing system many positions had been on the same grade, but had significant difference in the positions description and didn’t have the room to allow them to on different grades,” the board action form read. “Some of the position descriptions needed to be rewritten to reflect the actual tasks being performed, all jobs change over time and this gave us the opportunity to make them accurate.”

The services include yearly job description updates, wage analysis and equity reports.

One of the items not included on the board forms are insurance costs, which commissioners say would show the full cost. Payroll and insurance expenditures are the largest budget items. Commissioner Murlyn Kreklau also noted the significant cost of cafeteria dollars. Departments also have costs, including labor, covered by state and federal funds.

These additional costs are what concern commissioner Jon Kangas, including as property valuations have risen with property sales.

The cost questions started with the notification of a new hire, which was advertised on the old pay grid since the new pay grid had not been approved yet. New employees are hired with a set grade and a “placeholder” step, Odden said. The step increases based on gained experience and time with the county. Odden said the step changes could lead to cents or up to a dollar difference between the old and new grid.

Both Kangas and commissioner Sheldon Monson noted how they have asked for flat dollar amount increases instead of percentages in the past.

The DDA study included pay equity, though Kangas noted office positions and deputy positions have the same grade although one position is 9-5 and one position is 24/7. He said both positions are needed, but funding the costs is an issue. Kangas said the costs could be over $3 million between three years.

The negotiation process with unions also needs improvement, commissioners said. The licensed deputies labor contract, representing eight positions, includes terms for January 2022 to December 2024. Kangas voted against the contract due to the negotiation process that he said should be fair for all employees.

“I’m frustrated and I know a lot of people are too,” Kangas said. He has served on the negotiations committee for two years.


“As far as the timing of this … it’s ultimately quite largely the board’s fault. We’ve been struggling for this to figure out a process and it’s only been recently that we finally got some consensus to move forward,” Monson said. “But it’s ultimately the board’s fault that it’s been stalled.”

County job classification and compensation study continues.

While Kreklau said it is too late to change where the board is now, he added “we can do better” by creating a plan for future negotiations. He said approving the new grid prior to negotiations would have provided a “tool” for the county.

The board had a closed session on negotiations following the meeting for 2022 contracts.

The board also:

  • Approved the Sheriff’s Office selling three of their vehicles at the Verndale fireman’s auction. The board approved the minimum bids, though the office can decide to accept a lower bid at the auction. Deputy sheriff Joe Schoon said the Verndale auction has large interest and is easier and possibly cheaper to use than MinnBid.
  • Approved adding a tech conference room at the Wadena County courthouse. The remodel is expected to cost $42,850 with county employees and Sentence to Serve crews working on the project. A decision on updating the mail room and auditor’s area was tabled until April 19.
  • Discussed property valuations as commissioners have received phone calls about the increases. Monson encouraged people to separate their property valuation and property taxes. Property taxes depend on county, city or township and school district levies, which are at small increases. Odden noted the Staples-Motley school district had “significant changes.” Monson and Kreklau said the assessor’s office does a fair job. You can contact the county assessor Lee Brekke about incorrect valuations. Local boards of appeal are also available before the county board of appeals and equalization meeting in June.
Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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