During their Tuesday, September 11 meeting, the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners debated how to proceed after hearing the results of a recent market study evaluating employee salaries. The report drew mixed reactions from commissioners, forcing the Board to delay action on the item after it was first introduced two weeks ago.

The market study was commissioned earlier this year to help the Board better understand where county employee salaries stand compared to similar counties. The study found major discrepancies in salaries, particularly among low wage employees (which was found to be 16.82% below the market average). The report also identified two possible solutions. The first option would adjust upwards the steps on the current pay scale, while the other would adjust wages according to years of service in an employee’s current position. In either scenario, Yellow Medicine would increase wages across the board.

Commissioner Gary Johnson did not hold back expressing his frustrations with the whole process. “I’m not ready to proceed ahead without knowing how we got here in the first place,” he said, adding that he was worried about a “snowball effect” in wage increases. He felt that the market study say anything knew, and he blasted what he perceived to be a lack of specifics in the report.

Other commissioners quickly pushed back and disputed Johnson’s characterization of the process. Board Chair Ron Antony stressed that the Board had already put a lot of time and effort into the salary assessment and urged other commissioners not to abandon the effort. “For us to say we’re not going to take any action, then why did we do it? Why did we spend the money? That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Yellow Medicine County Administrator Peg Heglund explained that “the problem is that we haven’t kept up with [changes in] the market and with our job descriptions.” She also clarified that the Board had a range of available options. “It’s just a recommendation,” she said, adding that the market study “shows us how far behind on salary we are.”

Commissioner John Berends agreed, saying that the county should have done a better job at keeping tabs of salary changes. “This needs attention every 3 to 5 years. Things change, and we need to change with it,” he said. Berends added that the county was still at the start of the process and wasn’t locked into any specific proposal. “Maybe there can be several different ways to do this,” he conciliated.

Still, Johnson remained skeptical. “I’d like to know what caused this problem before we implement anything,” he said. Other commissioners replied by stressing that there was no single cause to the problem.

After considerable debate, the Board reached a consensus to move forward with evaluating the results of the market study. The Board created a new study group consisting of commissioners, department heads, and county employees (though Chairperson Antony underscored that “it can’t be employees driving the boat”). Additional discussion and review is expected to continue for the next several months before the full Board addresses the issue again.

In other news:

Tyler Knutson from the Yellow Medicine SWCD updated the Board on ongoing well mapping efforts in the county. The seven year process is intended to map existing wells and uncover ‘lost’ wells. According to the SWCD, there are about 300 wells in use that haven’t been recorded with many more now in disuse. He estimates that the SWCD will dedicate approximately 400 hours throughout the course of the project.

The Board unanimously approved an application from Puddle Jumpers Daycare in Granite Falls for the $25,000 Child Care Grant recently created by the county. The grant is contingent on matching financial support from other entities, which Puddle Jumpers documented in their written application. According to Family Services Director Rae Ann Keeler-Aus, the private entity will use the funds add 15 slots for school age children, bringing their total capacity to 57.

The Board listened to a presentation from Aaron Backman of the Highway 23 Coalition. He outlined ongoing efforts to increase transportation funding for the Highway 23 corridor, including ramping up lobbying efforts with state representatives’ No more ‘Minnesota Nice,’ he told commissioners, “it’s important to be aggressive.” He added that since Yellow Medicine joined, several new additional city and county governments have joined the group. Commissioners thanked Backman for his presentation, and decided to upgrade their membership status with the group from ‘Supporter’ to ‘Advocate’ (with an annual contribution of $1,500).