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Harnsberger gives raises against wishes of commission

Jul 25, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Fremont County treasurer Scott Harnsberger has cut the roughly $20,000 in bonuses he's traditionally given to his staff, opting to give raises instead.

The decision comes as Harnsberger has been embattled with Fremont County Commissioners over his budget in recent months.

During budget discussions in the spring, commissioners demanded Harnsberger end his long-standing practice of giving bonuses, cutting a corresponding $19,835. This year's budget was slashed significantly in response to a decreased county tax base tied to the energy recession.

Harnsberger argued thee bonuses were given only in lieu of pay increases, and at one point, even threatened to quit over the commissioners' decision, saying they had made his employees the only ones in county government effectively to receive a pay decrease.

County board chairman Travis Becker lambasted the new raises Tuesday and said Harnsberger should come to the next meeting to explain his decision.

"The public needs to be made aware of this," Becker said.

Commissioner Clarence Thomas even suggested ordering an audit if it's determined that the accompanying increase to benefits means Harnsberger's total budget is higher than originally presented.

"He has moved his budget to an increase that cannot be afforded at this time," he said.

When commissioners first told Harnsberger they planned to cut $19,835 from his budget, the treasurer said that instead of cutting pay, he would absorb the cut through attrition that would necessitate the closure of the treasurer's office during the lunch hour. But with total pay still intact and no plan to reduce hours, Becker suggested Harnsberger might have misled them over the impact of further cuts.

"I would like to find out more on his statements," he said.

The commissioners instituted a hiring and wage freeze in May. After it technically expired in June, the commission Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the freeze indefinitely.

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