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Many elected N.D. agency heads earn less than staff

December 29, 2013 12:37 am  •  By JAMES MacPHERSON | Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota’s deputy tax commissioner will be taking a $9,202 annual pay cut when he takes over the agency’s top post this week, making him one of several department bosses in the state who earn less than some of their subordinates.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple last month appointed Ryan Rauschenberger to serve the remainder of term held by elected Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, who is resigning at the year’s end. Rauschenberger, who made $114,252 as deputy commissioner, will be paid Fong’s annual salary of $105,050 when he begins his new job on Wednesday, according to state budget records.

Rauschenberger named longtime state employee Joe Morrissette the department’s new deputy and will pay him his old salary.

Salaries for the governor and elected officials who lead agencies are set by the Legislature. But agency heads have some discretion in setting staff salaries, according to Dalrymple, which can account for the differences in pay.

“It is important to find highly qualified people for roles in public service,” Dalrymple said in a statement. “In terms of salaries, it has always been a challenge to compete against the private sector when recruiting staff, so some flexibility in that area can be helpful.”

The lighter paycheck is not lost on Rauschenberger. But he says heading the North Dakota Tax Department is a golden opportunity in public service.

“Obviously, I’m a numbers guy,” said Rauschenberger, 31, a certified public accountant who is single and has no children. “But this is more than just about money. It’s about being able to serve the people of North Dakota and the taxpayers of North Dakota in the capacity of commissioner.”

The agency that collects an assortment of state taxes has 134 employees and a two-year budget of $57 million.

Rauschenberger has not formally announced a campaign for the elected post, but he says that could happen in the next few weeks.

In addition to the tax commissioner, the state auditor, attorney general, insurance commissioner and the state’s three public service commissioners, all elected posts, have staff members who make more money than they do, according to state Office of Management and Budget records.

But the secretary of state, state treasurer, superintendent of public instruction and agriculture commissioner make more money than their deputies, records show.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem makes $143,685 and is the highest-paid elected official to head an agency; State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, who earns $91,406 annually, is the lowest-paid elected agency head, records show.

As for the more than 40 agency or commission directors who are either appointed by the governor or a board, they often earn far more than their elected counterparts. And Ken Purdy, a state compensation manager for OMB, said appointed agency directors rarely make less than those who work under them.

Eric Hardmeyer, president of the Bank of North Dakota — the only state-owned bank in the United States — makes $246,450 and is the highest-paid appointed agency head in the state, records show. Nancy Jo Bateman, executive director of the North Dakota Beef Commission, makes the lowest salary, at $72,121, records show.

Lynn Helms, director of the state Mineral Resources and North Dakota’s top oil regulator, is the second-highest paid appointed agency head in the state, with an annual salary of $189,000, records show. Dr. Terry Dwelle, the state health officer and chief administrator of North Dakota’s Department of Health, is No. 3 at $188,700.

Rauschenberger’s father, Ron, who serves as Dalrymple’s chief of staff, also brings home a bigger salary than the governor, records show. Ron Rauschenberger’s salary is $148,950 a year, or $27,269.36 more than Dalrymple’s earnings.

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