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By TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published May 13 2013

North Dakota adds 144 full-time government jobs

BISMARCK – Gov. Jack Dalrymple said it was pretty obvious going into the 2013 Legislative session that the state needed more employees to tackle issues related to the oil boom, but he was surprised lawmakers approved most of what he requested with little complaint.

“Even the most conservative Legislature saw it’s what we needed to do to keep up,” he said, noting it’s often difficult to get a handful of new employees approved, as lawmakers see it as growing government.

According to the Legislative Council, lawmakers added just more than 144 full-time equivalent positions, not counting higher education positions paid by local funds. That brings the numbers of state employees in the next biennium to 11,484.48 FTEs.

The number of positions added was an overall reduction in Dalrymple’s request by 20.25. Dalrymple asked for a 223.36 full-time equivalent positions while removing 58.79, which would have put the total 164.57 over the previous biennium.

Dalrymple thinks this increase in state employees will only continue into the next session.

“I doubt we’ll talk much about trimming state employees,” he said.

Commissioner of Labor Tony Weiler said the Department of Labor added one new compliance investigator to the ranks this year, bumping their total to 13 FTEs.

He said the position was much needed after an explosion of new businesses and employees prompted a large number of wage claims that have been pouring in this past year. In the last month alone, the department received 80 claims, compared to the 28 claims a month in previous years.

“There’s a mentality of not growing government, but when your state is growing and you have people and your job is to provide those services to the citizens of the state, you have to have the help to do it,” Weiler said.

Dalrymple and Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp said most of the new additions were placed in the Oil Patch.

Dalrymple’s budget included $3.8 million in additional funding for 15 additional Highway Patrol troopers.

Sgt. Tom Iverson, the patrol’s safety and education officer, said the department was approved for all 15 new officers it requested, an “unprecedented amount.”

He said many of the new positions will be stationed in western North Dakota and the Highway Patrol will be opening up the hiring process as soon as possible.

“The west definitely has an emphasis,” he said. “The entire state has been busy, but out west is the largest concern right now with a lot of activity.”

The Oil Patch will also see more inspectors through the Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division.

Allison Ritter, spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources, said the division received all 23 requested positions by the Legislature, totaling $4 million.

Ritter said 10 will be dedicated as inspectors in the field and the other 13 will be office support staff in Bismarck.

She said 15 of the positions could be cut if oil activity suddenly dropped off. Three of the new positions have been approved but are only available if oil activity increases beyond 15,000 wells.

There is no dip expected soon.

“Even if price of oil goes down, it will not just shut off,” Dalrymple said. “It would be in the companies’ best economic interests to continue.”

The Department of Health received nine new FTEs to help regulate the oil industry and provide emergency services.

Three new district court judges will soon be added to the state, two in the Oil Patch and one in Fargo, along with three court reporters and another 15 FTEs. Western North Dakota judges have called the judicial system a, “conveyor-belt justice,” system where too many are being arrested and have little time in front of a judge because the system is short staffed.

“In the end, I think they treated us fairly,” Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said of the Legislature. “This is unchartered territory for me. We had an area that was declining that all the sudden was burgeoning, so it’s difficult to measure how far it’s going to go.”