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Grand Forks' growth pushes city to hire more employees

This year is the first in more than two decades the Grand Forks City Assessor's Office hired a new employee. The office's last new employee was hired in 1980 -- when there were 4,000 fewer homes and 700 fewer commercial properties in Grand Forks....

City of Grand Forks illustration

This year is the first in more than two decades the Grand Forks City Assessor's Office hired a new employee.

The office's last new employee was hired in 1980 -- when there were 4,000 fewer homes and 700 fewer commercial properties in Grand Forks.

And since then, the city's total taxable value has risen from $41 million to $180 million.

Much of that growth has been recently -- with building construction projects' total value exceeding $200 million in 2014, compared to just $82 million in 2010.

As Grand Forks grows, the number of city government workers has to grow too, city officials said. The city added more new jobs this year than it has in previous years.


"We're looking at the workloads," City Administrator Todd Feland said. "This is a first budget year that we've added this number of positions."

The city budgeted for a seven new employees this year, totaling about $450,000 in city-paid salaries for those positions. One of the jobs is 40 percent funded by a state grant.

But despite adding those new positions, the city's total number of employees is increasing by just three, to 485 employees, because of some department consolidations, contracts ending and attrition following retirements, according to Maureen Storstad, city finance director.

While Grand Forks' growth is pushing the city to hire more employees, it has also brought increased revenue to facilitate those new hires.

The city took in $350,000 more in 2014 for building permits, Storstad said. Newly annexed properties also increased the amount of property taxes paid to the city.

Managing growth

The city is aware that the quick pace of recent growth may be temporary, Storstad said, which is why five of the seven new positions hired this year are one-year contract, trial positions.

The two permanent jobs are in the Assessor's Office and the Public Health Department. Like the Assessor's Office, Public Health has not hired a new employee since the 1980s.


Both of those areas serve permanent growth, Feland said, as there are many new properties to assess and new businesses subject to health inspections.

"Because of the city's growth and an effort to keep up with good property valuations and keep up with the number of properties, we needed more people," City Assessor John Herz said.

The situation is similar in the Public Health Department, said Javin Bedard, environmental health manager.

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of licensed facilities requiring inspections has increased by 20 percent, Bedard said. This includes new restaurants and hotels, he said.

There has also been an increase in nuisance complaints, he said. "We want to be able to be responsive to the public."

Advances in technology have alleviated some of the city's increasing workload, but that can't replace an extra employee when needed, Herz said.

While this year included the city's highest number of new hires in recent years, Feland said the city will continue to look at areas that may need more employees as the city continues to grow.

Public safety is one area of need, he said. For example, the city already has plans to hire 12 new firefighters next year to staff the new south-end fire station.


"There isn't any doubt that we are growing, and people realize that," Herz said.

New positions

Amount budgeted for new positions in 2015:

One Real Estate Appraiser -- $46,450

One Environmental Health Specialist -- $40,734 (60 percent city funds; 40 percent state grant)

One Civil Engineering Technician -- $57,000

Two Building Inspectors, Senior -- $129,252

One Human Resources Technician -- $34,590

One Parking Enforcement position -- $29,120

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