Looking ugly in Fultonville

We have rarely seen a more complex and convoluted controversy than the one currently raging in the village of Fultonville over whether or not the village’s long-tenured clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk — husband-and-wife duo Tom and Kathy DiMezza — should receive $18,000 worth of raises for the 2017-18 village fiscal year.

The village board of trustees on Monday passed a resolution to keep the DiMezzas compensation at its 2016-17 level, but newly-elected Mayor Ryan Weitz says he might give the raises anyway, if village attorney Bethany Schumann-McGhee can determine he has the legal authority to do so.

Fultonville’s 2017-18 budget did not include a line-item raise for the DiMezzas, even before the trustees’ resolution, but Weitz announced his intention during the budget process to increase their salaries using discretionary personnel funds included in the budget, including money from the water and sewer funds. He contends that’s appropriate because both DiMezzas do work that can be compensated from those funds.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Weitz wants to increase the compensation for the DiMezzas based on his observation that the clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk in the village of Fonda receive a combined $52,000 in salary. But Weitz wants to give nearly all of the compensation for the two positions to Kathy DiMezza, raising her pay to about $45,600 per year, leaving Tom DiMezza’s salary at a much lower level.

Village trustee Linda Denton revealed during Monday’s meeting that Tom DiMezza, in the past, asked the trustees to lower his salary and increase his wife’s because a higher salary could interfere with the collection of his Amsterdam police pension. Bumping Kathy DiMezza’s salary to $45,600 would have implications for her own state pension, which will be based on the average of her last three years working for the village.

Although income to either DiMezza obviously flows into the joint household, it is still inappropriate to pay any part of compensation earned by Tom DiMezza to his wife.

This means Weitz should not participate in this kind of financial maneuver. Although it may be true that the trustees failed to defund the personnel lines from which Weitz could potentially pay out the raises, they have clearly expressed their desire not to pour the salary of two positions into one person’s compensation.

Why does any of this matter? Tom DiMezza defends his long record of working for the village by pointing to how he’s helped keep the property tax and water and sewer rates flat for a long time. Supporters of paying the raises might argue the village has gotten a good value from the DiMezzas, essentially underpaying two for the price of one in recent years. So, where’s the harm in allowing Kathy DiMezza to retire with a better state pension, the money for which will come from the state pension fund, not the villagers?

The reason it matters is that allowing this kind of gaming of the pension system, even if it breaks no laws, undermines the public’s confidence in all of the work Tom DiMezza did during his 24 years as clerk-treasurer for Fultonville. Tom DiMezza has challenged the village trustees to call the New York state Comptroller’s office and ask for an audit of the village’s books, and although they may not find anything, such an audit may now be necessary to restore public faith.

By Patricia Older

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