County board won’t take extra pay during pandemic

By Anna Jauhola
The Kittson County Board of Commissioners decided at its Tuesday, March 31 meeting they should be keeping track of hours they spend in meetings related to COVID-19. The board met via the digital platform GoToMeeting and it went better this time around. Three weeks ago, the board agreed to meet weekly until the pandemic is over.
Board Chair Theresia Gillie added the subject to the agenda prior to approval. She wondered her fellow commissioners’ thoughts on whether they should get paid extra for the regular weekly meetings, submit per diem requests or if it’s considered a part of their salary.
Commissioners Darrel Johnson, Leon Olson, Corey Wikstom and Loren Younggren each said they didn’t feel they should be paid for the additional regular meetings.
“Personally I don’t think we need any extra for this,” Johnson said, referring to the extra regular meetings. “Like Leon said, we’re not driving anywhere. It’s a few minutes of our time on our phone or computer. It’s not that big of a deal. We’re sitting at home not getting a lot of other stuff done. It’s time well spent.”
County Administrator Eric Christensen said the commissioners are technically salaried, which indicates they receive the same pay regardless of how much time they spend in regular meetings.
However, each commissioner does receive a per diem and mileage for meetings outside regular board meetings they attend as commissioners.
Gillie said she has been on several calls, sometimes three or four a day, related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Younggren said he appreciates Gillie phoning into the meetings.
“I brought up the question to Theresia the other day, and thought it should be discussed what we’re going to do,” Wikstrom said. “Whichever way we go is fine with me.”
“I thought either we’re all going to do it or we’re all not going to do it,” Gillie said.
The commissioners agreed they should not be paid for extra regular meetings. However, they should keep track of any time spent on meetings they phone into or attend related to COVID-19, in case there’s a chance for reimbursement down the road.
In other business, the board:
Approved increasing Assistant Highway Engineer Keith Klegstad’s pay by $10 per hour until they hire a new county engineer. Klegstad estimated two-thirds of his time, since Kelly Bengtson left, has been spent on Bengtson’s former duties. The board made the pay increase retroactive to Feb. 26, which was technically Bengtson’s last day. The pay increase will remain in effect until an engineer is hired and Klegstad no longer has to help cover the position.
Heard a short update on the COVID-19 situation in Kittson County, which hadn’t changed much. About 20 courthouse and highway department employees are set up to or are working from home, and others are not working at all. The driver’s license department is closed entirely, per state orders, Christensen said. Otherwise, other employees are on rotating shifts to avoid unnecessary contact with each other.
The commission will meet again, via GoToMeeting, at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 7. Should the public like to attend the meeting, the upstairs meeting room will be available to listen in. Visitors will be monitored at the northwest door. The courthouse in general, however, remains closed to the public.

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