Al Jaeger, Published May 30 2012
Agency meets big demandsIn its editorial of May 25, The Forum recognized the unprecedented growth and business activity occurring throughout North Dakota during the past few years. It has quickly impacted businesses, housing, schools, transportation, and governments from townships to state level agencies.
In my office, the average number of monthly business registrations took a dramatic jump beginning in July 2011. Since then, the monthly average is up over 55 percent from the previous 12 months. In addition, from July to September of last year, the Secretary of State’s Office was an integral part of the Minot multi-agency licensing center to expedite flood recovery efforts. Since Jan. 1, my office has issued more than 1,300 contractor licenses.
Compared against any standard, the numbers for a small agency of 28 people are overwhelming and registration and licensing are only a part of the over 30 agency responsibilities, including elections. Nevertheless, my exceptional staff has extended themselves by working overtime and weekends to continue providing good service under very challenging circumstances.
The most often asked question of me is, “Why don’t you hire more help?” It sounds simple, but it isn’t.
All state agency budget requests for the 2011-2013 biennial period beginning July 1, 2011, were submitted in the summer of 2010. They were reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, became a part of the governor’s budget recommendations, and then they were reviewed again by the 2011 Legislature. They made their decisions based on the best information available. Subsequently, as do all agencies, the secretary of state is legally obligated to operate within the approved budget and staffing levels.
Last September, the Emergency Commission approved my request for a funding transfer to hire temporary help. While we have employed up to 10 temporary people, they cannot process the filing of important legal business documents. As it is, my office has no extra space and temporarily is using a legislative hearing room and some staff will soon be moved out of the capitol.
As a member and secretary of the Emergency Commission, I do not recall when a general-funded agency has ever asked permission to add permanent staff between legislative sessions. Yet, in June I will because all indicators are that the demand for services will remain high. Therefore, staff must be hired and trained to file vital business documents in accordance with the requirements of state law.
In the meantime, we have made internal reassignments and contractor license applications are current. As anticipated, we have increased customer service by limiting the number of hours the office is open each day. By allowing staff to work uninterrupted a few hours each day, the turnaround time for filings has been decreased by two weeks and walk-in traffic has still been accommodated. To fill vacancies created by several retirements and career changes, I have hired six people within the past two months that must be trained.
I am proud of my dedicated and conscientious staff. I am grateful for the people who have personally told me of the exceptional service they have received from them. From east to west, the state’s economy is booming. As allowed by state law and budget resources, my office has and will continue to respond as quickly as possible to the demands of this economic growth. By advocating positive changes in business laws during the past 10 legislative sessions, my office helped make North Dakota one of the most business friendly states in the nation. It is a privilege and honor for me to have played a small part in making that happen and I will continue doing so.
Jaeger is North Dakota secretary of state.