WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published June 06, 2012, 08:02 PM

ND Secretary of State Seeking 3 More Employees

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Faced with a mushrooming volume of paperwork, Secretary of State Al Jaeger has made an emergency request to spend $295,000 on three new employees.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Faced with a mushrooming volume of paperwork, Secretary of State Al Jaeger has made an emergency request to spend $295,000 on three new employees.

Jaeger said Wednesday that he hopes a legislative committee will endorse the idea later this month. Lawmakers have been skeptical of proposals to hire new full-time state employees that haven't been reviewed by the Legislature itself, which does not start its next regular session until January.

Since last July, the average monthly number of state business registrations has surged 55 percent from the previous year's average, and 70 percent from the average of two years ago, Jaeger said. His office has issued more than 1,600 contractor licenses alone since Jan. 1, he said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the state budget office and legislative leaders "have been kept informed, and they can easily see the challenges ... we are facing in terms of this huge increase," Jaeger said. "I don't care how you cut it, 70 percent is a significant increase."

To exceed the spending and employment limits set by the Legislature, North Dakota agencies must get permission from the state Emergency Commission and a separate legislative committee called the Budget Section.

Dalrymple chairs the six-member Emergency Commission, which includes Jaeger, the chairmen of the state House and Senate appropriations committees and the majority leaders of the House and Senate. The Budget Section is comprised of the chambers' floor leaders and the members of appropriations committees, which are in charge of crafting state agency budgets.

Jaeger's Emergency Commission request seeks permission to spend $295,000 on the three new employees for the rest of the state's current budget period, which ends June 30, 2013. He will ask the Legislature next year to keep the workers for a full two years, which will cost about $324,000.

He would finance the positions with money budgeted for a technology project, Jaeger said. The need for the funds has not been as immediate as was expected, he said.

In early April, Jaeger took the unusual step of shortening public office hours to give staffers time to process business paperwork requests. His office is open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, instead of the normal 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday of state Capitol agencies.

If given permission to hire the workers, Jaeger said he does not intend to immediately change those hours, which have reduced the normal time for processing paperwork from six weeks to four. Jaeger said he'd like to see it drop to two weeks.

The secretary of state's office licenses contractors, home inspectors, notaries public, businesses, nonprofit groups and other organizations. It has 28 employees and a two-year budget of $16.1 million. Two additional employees would process business registrations, Jaeger said, and the third would help handle business filings of annual reports.

Although the surge in paperwork is often attributed to western North Dakota's booming oil-producing region, it is coming in from across North Dakota, Jaeger said. The state's April unemployment rate was 3 percent, the lowest in the nation, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jaeger said he didn't ask lawmakers to approve additional staffing for his office during the last legislative session, even though its workload was rising at the time. He said the increase has been especially pronounced after the session adjourned, especially after damage caused by statewide flooding produced a surge of requests for contractor licenses, he said.

"If anybody can come and tell me that ... they saw this all happening, I'd like to see their crystal ball, because they had knowledge that I didn't have," Jaeger said. "Everybody wants to know, didn't you see this coming? I want to know, who in the spring of 2011, knew that Minot was going to lose 4,000 homes."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.