Fultonville mayor wants legal opinion on raises

FULTONVILLE – Mayor Ryan Weitz has asked village attorney Bethany Schumann-McGhee to research whether a resolution passed by the village board of trustees Monday night prevents him from giving $18,000 in raises to the village clerk-treasurer and the deputy clerk.

Weitz said he believes the raises are justified, and he’s inclined to authorize paying them, despite a resolution passed by the village board Monday night that sought to limit the pay of the clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk to their 2016-17 salaries.

“If I have the authority to do so, yes,” Weitz said of paying out the increase. “I think it’s based on the duties and the responsibilities of those offices. Looking at similar size villages, and the most comparable village being the village of Fonda, they are paying out $52,000 a year for their clerk-treasurer and their deputy clerk treasurer. This is something where the village of Fultonville, I think, for many years, has been underpaying their clerk and deputy clerk.”

According to the $530,084 2017-18 Fultonville village budget, village clerk Tom DiMezza and his wife, deputy clerk Kathy DiMezza, are set to be paid out of a budget line item of $27,900, with no increase to that budget line from 2016-17. Tom DiMezza is paid $1,200, while Kathy DiMezza is set to be paid $26,500. The proposed raises for each, if paid, would be taken out of four personnel spending lines in the village’s water and sewer funds.

Pay for the village’s clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk became the center of a controversy this year after the village board approved $4,000 per month raises for January, February and March for Tom DiMezza. Board members say the raises were paid for the purpose of DiMezza training his intended replacement, Kelley O’Kosky.

O’Kosky was appointed interim treasurer by interim mayor George Donaldson, but Donaldson — whose petition to run for mayor was thrown out because he had an incorrect date on his form —lost the special election for mayor in March as a write-in candidate against Weitz.

Donaldson’s name did not appear on the ballot.

After he was elected, Weitz dismissed O’Kosky, maintained the appointment of the DiMezzas and proposed maintaining a portion of the raise given to Tom DiMezza, extending it for the entire year, but giving the raise to his wife instead, effectively raising her annual salary to $45,600.

Village trustee Linda Denton, during Monday’s meeting, said the village has been involved in an unusual compensation arrangement with the husband and wife team in which the village pays the majority of the compensation for the two positions to the deputy clerk. She said this was as a result of a request Tom DiMezza made to the board years earlier, prior to Denton’s election to the board. She said he asked the board to switch his compensation to his wife, so that the income would not interfere with his police pension. Tom DiMezza receives a pension for his service as an Amsterdam police officer.

Denton said during the meeting that she did not want the village funding a husband and wife retirement program for the DiMezzas.

If Kathy DiMezza’s salary were increased to $45,600, it could have implications for her own state pension from having served as deputy clerk. Her pension payout would be based on the average of her salary during her last three years on the job.

“The budget that was presented was presented with inaccurate figures,” Denton said. “The board approved the budget based on amendments to the clerk and deputy clerk’s salary. Mayor Weitz agreed to that, before the board and the public.

“We amended line-items for the clerk and the deputy clerk, I don’t care what Ryan tells you. That’s the only way the board approved the budget.”

Weitz said he believes the village’s 2017-18 budget has about $216,000 in potential personnel spending in it, which includes extra money beyond the approximately $180,000 the village usually spends on personnel, the extra money being there to pay for unexpected overtime and to pay employees for work done for the water and sewer department.

Weitz said whenever village employees do work for the water and sewer department, such as repairing water main breaks or Tom DiMezza installing a software program, the employee needs to be paid from the water and sewer funds. Weitz said he believes he has the authority to pay the DiMezzas as he sees fit, within the limits of the personnel money budgeted for those funds.

The Fultonville water fund has $15,000 budgeted for pump station personnel costs and $25,000 budgeted for purification personnel costs. The sewer fund has $7,000 in administrative personnel costs budgeted and $15,000 in a line-item called personnel.

Weitz said the village board had the power to remove funding from any of those budget lines, but did not do so. He said he does not believe the resolution passed by the board changed any of the budget line-items for the village’s 2017-18 budget.

“The board has the authority to approve the budget, which has the expenditure line item for personnel services. The budget they approved — they didn’t change any lines, so there is money in the budget to pay out those salaries, either the reduced salaries or the increased salaries. What I am unsure of is whether they can say ‘no, you cannot pay this employee that much money, you can only pay them that.’ I don’t know if they have that authority,” Weitz said.

“When you take a look at village law and the village handbook, it says the board of trustees votes on the budget. It says the salaries are presented as part of that budget, but it doesn’t anywhere say that the board of trustees votes on salaries, so I am not sure whether that is something that requires board approval. That’s something I’ve asked our attorney to look into and report back to the board and myself on that.”

Weitz said his understanding of village law is that the board can only amend budgets on a line-item basis, and whenever spending is cut, taxes or water and sewer rates must also be cut the same amount, ensuring there is a “net-zero” effect on the budget. He said he is frustrated that the board appears not to understand how to amend the village’s budget.

“They would have had the authority to [cut the personnel spending line], they chose not to,” he said. “Additionally, last year the village board raised water and sewer rates and the board has complained about it ever since, even during the budget workshop they were saying they didn’t know what they were voting on.

“They’ve complained about it for a year. They could have cut water and sewer rates this year, and they didn’t. There’s plenty of things they continue to complain about, but they had the authority to take action and they didn’t.”

Lawsuit threatened

Tom DiMezza again on Friday said he intends to file a lawsuit against the members of the board of trustees for discussing a personnel matter regaurding him and his wife’s compensation during the open session of the village board’s public meeting on Monday

“Linda Denton has on her Facebook page that corruption is going on. Well if you think corruption is going on, call the state Comptroller’s Office and have them come in and do an audit,” Tom DiMezza said. “I think that’s liable. I’ve contacted an attorney and they’re going to get a notice of claim filed, all four of those board members. They want to talk about personnel issues in public, then they are going to get their [expletives] sued, because there is no corruption going on, if you want to make false accusations like that, then you deserve to be sued.”

The village board also passed several resolutions Monday night aimed at establishing regular office hours for Tom and Kathy DiMezza, as well a requirement that Tom DiMezza provide meeting minutes from the prior village board meeting at least two hours prior to the beginning of the meetings. Although he was not in attendence Monday, Tom DiMezza records the village’s minutes based on a digital audio recording made during the board meetings, he said.

Weitz said the office hours for the village clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk will not go into effect until the village eliminates an ongoing mold problem in the clerk-treasurers office.

Although village trustees suggested the DiMezzas could work in the main village board meeting room, Weitz said that proposal is not viable as the clerks have access to sensitive information that must remain under lock and key, and too many people, including Fultonville volunteer firefighters, have access to the main room.

“The two offices are full of mold, so I am not going to tell anybody to work in a room that’s full of mold, until that’s remedied,” Weitz said. “The board has asked me to get quotes on remedying that situation and I intend to do that and get that ready for the board. If we get to a situation where we fix that situation with the mold in the clerk treasurers office, then we can discuss what’s next in terms of office hours, but not until that’s a safe working environment.

“To say that the clerk-treasurer, every day, should come into the office and move their computer out into that [main] room, and all of the records out into that room, I just think that’s an unreasonable request. All of the accounting software, all of the billing software is all on a computer that’s in a room filled with mold.”

Weitz said he believes the meeting minutes are already available to any of the members of the village board upon request to the clerk-treasuer.

One resolution passed by the board of trustees, that Weitz said he supports, is requiring the clerk-treasurer to provide a more comprehensive budget statement, with cost projections and a breakdown of increases, at the beginning of the village budget process.

“Yes, I am fully in support of all of those ideas,” Weitz said. “The tentative budget is due to the board in March, before I was mayor. Moving forward, I am fully in support of incorporating all of those ideas into the budget process.”

By Chad Fleck

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