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County employees will get 3 percent raises

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Hubbard County employees, despite a recession, will continue to get 3 percent annual raises through the end of 2011.

County board members voted last month to give union, non-union and elected employees cost of living increases that amount to a 3 percent increase.

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In so doing, it puts many county employees above the U.S. Census Bureau median income levels in both the state and Hubbard County. But since the Census Bureau tabulates those median incomes for a family, the individual wages received by county employees are like comparing apples to oranges.

Nonetheless, it reinforces the belief that government is a far better place to work these days than the private sector, which has experienced salary cuts, job layoffs and massive reductions in the workforce locally and nationally.

And it has frustrated Hubbard County board chair Lyle Robinson to a point. He constantly asks why the county is growing while most industries are not. Last year, as board chair, he led a belt-tightening move that severely restricted spending on persons, places and things.

But the employee unions continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

"Ideally the way to do that (tell the unions there will be no more raises), is to just not fill the positions so the unions don't have the members so you can get their attention," Robinson said. "Unfortunately, I don't have the votes on the board to do that."

But Robinson conversely believes the county has invested wisely in its workforce, money well spent to hire loyal, hard-working people. Employees recently offered to raise their own insurance deductible limits to keep cost down.

"I'm usually not as concerned about what I pay as what I get from them," Robinson said.

Is the county getting its money's worth?

"I think so," Robinson said. "If we didn't, I'd be raising hell. Because I just listened to Beltrami County and they said they're down 43 positions. I cannot imagine being so over-bloated that you could carry 43 positions. "

In contrast, Hubbard County has only had a few retirements that were not filled.

But Hubbard County salaries still have outpaced the private sector, both locally and statewide.

In 2008, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey listed Hubbard County's median household income at $57,318 in Minnesota; $42,312 for Hubbard County.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis tracks personal per capita income. In 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, Minnesota's was $41,105; Hubbard County's was $27,984.

"Personal per capita is a different measure than median income from the Census Bureau, but this is more recent than anything we can get from the Census Bureau for Hubbard County," said demographer Barbara Ronningen of the State Demographic Center.

"Personal per capita income, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis is a somewhat different measure," she said. "It takes data from administrative records, the IRS, unemployment insurance, Social Security, information about public and private pensions, personal per capita income includes transfer payments, dividends and rent interest, and information from pseudo persons and some corporate data so it's a wide series of information."

Personal per capita information is an average of all those sources of income.

"Median is where we take everybody's income and find the midpoint," Ronningen said. "Half of the people have more; half have less according to the Census Bureau's definition of income."

By those measures, most Hubbard County salaries measure up well.

"Remember this is 2007, the most recent one" available, Ronningen said of the individual income figures. "I think we'll see bigger declines when we get 2008 and 2009 because of the recession. This data is just prior to the recession."

But Robinson said the salary issue is "a complicated puzzle."

Because Hubbard County pays higher starting wages, it gets a larger, better-qualified pool of applicants for each position, he maintains. The county likewise caps its top salaries below what other counties pay.

Cutting positions, especially in departments such as Social Services, doesn't save taxpayer money because most of the funds are "pass-through," state or federal funds administered locally.

And, Robinson said, Hubbard County's working conditions and salaries lure well-qualified employees from other counties when there are openings.

"Beltrami County has cut their Social Service staff to the point that their caseload is so high they cry at night," Robinson said he heard recently. "One employee told me the first time there's an opening in Hubbard County she'd be heading south," he said.

"Those sort of employees, when you get them, are very loyal," Robinson said.

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