Finance Board takes aim at perks at improvement authorities

TRENTON – A Union County Improvement Authority application for $14 million toward building a college building was deferred after the Local Finance Board raised questions about the salary and perks of the executive director of the authority.

Finance Board Chairman Tom Neff Called executive director Charlotte DeFilippo’s $160,000 salary “shocking,” especially since there are only two other employees, and he questioned the fact she is allowed to work from home, and raised concerns about vacation-day payouts at the end of her career.

He said she has 35 vacation days that can be rolled over.  He also questioned a $50,000 fee the authority assesses.

He called the situation “unconscionable,’’ and said a similar executive at the Atlantic County Improvement Authority, for instance, earns about $100,000 but has “five times the employees, and money is not being wasted there.”

Neff stressed he was not commenting on the project itself and whether it was needed, but he said he could not support the project until these matters are addressed.

“Taxpayers’ money is just being wasted. It may as well be flushed down the toilet.”

But representatives of the authority defended several issues Neff raised.

They told the board the executive director, Charlotte DeFilippo, is handicapped, uses a wheelchair, and that is why she works from home.

Neff questioned a $25,000 underwriter counsel fee as excessive but was told an actual underwriter had not been chosen yet, that the salary was essentially a “placeholder.” 

Neff also had questioned a contract provision that seems to extend her employment for five years automatically, but was told that is not automatically done, and that instead the contract requires a vote every year be  held.

As to some of the other concerns, the authority general counsel told the board they would be glad to meet at a later date and address them.

Neff also raised similar issues regarding a Middlesex County Improvement Authority application for refunding $13.5 million in bonds for golf courses. 

This application was approved; Neff said the refunding will save money, and although the concerns he had did not rise to the level of concern he had with Union County, he said he had issues with the level of staffing and pointed out the executive director, Richard Pucci, had been the subject of a Comptroller’s report last year.

The Comptroller found in a 2012 report that Pucci and some other top executives had been paid bonuses even though they were not part of an employment agreement.

Top among the bonuses paid was an additional $55,000 payment in 2010 to  Pucci, the report found.  The 30 percent bonus, along with a $4,800 car allowance and $3,565 in unused sick time, boosted Pucci’s 2010 salary from the authority to $249,366.  Pucci also is Mayor of Monroe Township.

Neff explained that last month the finance board had begun sending questionnaires to such authorities seeking financial details, and he said he was shocked to see what he saw.  The Union County situation, he said, went “beyond the pale.”

He dispelled any concerns of political motivations, and said it is about the money being spent.

He said the Hudson County Improvement Authority head earns less than DeFilippo, who is Union County Democratic Party chairwoman, and has a staff of 75 compared to her two.

Finance Board takes aim at perks at improvement authorities