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The Bismarck City Commission

The Bismarck City Commission. From left, Nancy Guy, Shawn Oban, Mayor Steve Bakken, Steve Marquardt and Greg Zenker.

Bismarck City Commissioners are considering increasing city employee salary ranges by 3.5% as part of the 2020 budget. 

The Budget Committee's recommendation would make Bismarck's wages competitive with local governments in North Dakota, Human Resources Director Robert McConnell said Tuesday while presenting the proposal.

Part of the proposed increase, 2.5%, is based on the Employment Cost Index, a measure of labor cost increases across the country that's published quarterly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, McConnell said. The remaining 1% would be based on merit. 

"There will be a 1% differentiation between employees performancewise, meaning if you were a better performer, you might get a little more than a lesser-performing employee," McConnell said in an interview. 

Last year, the commission approved a 2.8% increase, with 1.8% based on the Employee Cost Index, McConnell said. Like this year, 1% of that increase was merit-based. 

McConnell said salaries and wages set by other local governments have increased the Employee Cost Index by 2.5% in a 12-month period ending last March. 

"In order to stay competitive, you have to raise that entry level, and last year it was 1.8 and this year it is going to be 2.5," McConnell said during Tuesday's meeting.

Some commissioners said the city is facing an issue with low retention rates among public employees.  

Commissioner Shawn Oban said street police officers are averaging "about 2.8 years" in Bismarck.

"We've had some police officers leave Bismarck to go to smaller communities which to me, working in the school district, typically Bismarck is the place that people from smaller communities come to," he said. "So that was a real eye-opening deal. People are leaving Bismarck to go to smaller communities because of what we may not offer."

Turnover in the Bismarck Police Department was 10.47% in 2018, McConnell said in an interview. But that's less than a 1% increase from the previous year. 

Bismarck City Administrator Keith Hunke on Tuesday said the city also is seeing frequent turnover among plant operators and public works employees. 

Tandra Kraft, who works in Bismarck's information technology department, voiced her opinion on working for the city during public comments Tuesday. She said the proposed salary increase might not be enough to stay competitive. 

"We have lost good employees to the private sector recently in our department, as the private sector is beefing up their health insurance policies," Kraft said. "They are increasing their wages, and I think the city should be competitive or we could be losing more people to that private sector."

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Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.

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City Government Reporter