Local Finance Board defers Middlesex application, raises questions over Pucci compensation

TRENTON – A $19.5 million Middlesex County Improvement Authority application before the Local Finance Board was deferred Monday following a heated exchange between Board Chairman Thomas Neff and Richard Pucci, Authority executive director.

Neff told Middlesex officials the board would defer voting on the application for bonding for capital improvements over questions about fees for the authority and issues related to last year’s Comptroller’s report that was critical of the authority and Pucci’s salary.

Among other things, Neff raised questions about a $55,000 authority fee in the application. “It seems to me that not a tight ship is being run at the authority,’’ Neff said.

The Comptroller’s report was issued last August and raised several issues. Among the bonuses paid was an additional $55,000 payment in 2010 to Pucci.  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.

Pucci strongly defended his record before the board Monday, reminding Neff that he has 23 years in public service, and that there is no reason a simple phone call couldn’t have been placed ahead of today’s hearing to resolve the questions.

Pucci reminded the board that over more than two decades the authority’s budget has grown from $25,000 to $60 million, and its responsibilities have expanded to include five special needs districts, a recycling program, and more.

Pucci said that the financings were all determined to be in place, his board unanimously defended his salary, and he said to Neff that if he had an issue with his salary it shouldn’t be used as a reason to hold up this application for a county and six towns who have work that needs to be done and schedules to keep.

He also took a shot at Neff, and the political nature of his job, and said “the authorities are getting very frustrated,’’ and the board is “always talking about individual things and nitpicking.’’

But Neff also strongly defended his role. He said the items he took issue with are not minor, and that politics plays no role in his comments.

“I didn’t question your personal integrity,’’ Neff said to Pucci. “I have 22 years in personal service myself, I have a pretty good reputation of working with people who are Democrats or Republicans.’’

He said his comments were not politically motivated. “They are based on seeing a public salary that appears to me to be higher than it should be.’’

This is not the first time in recent months Neff and the board have held up action on an application and raised issue with an authority head’s salary.

Earlier this year, the board took issue with the salary of then-Union County Improvement Authority Executive Director Charlotte DeFilippo who since has resigned.

DeFilippo and Pucci are Democrats, and Neff is an appointee of the administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.


In other matters:

The board also approved these applications:

*Under the Environmental Infrastructure Trust Loan, $7 million for Chatham and $650,000 for Boonton.

*Lawnside Borough received approval to switch from a fiscal to a calendar year format.

*$900,000 for Bridgewater Fire District 4.

*For utilities or improvement authorities: $7.8 million for Gloucester County sewer revenue bonds; $15 million re-funding for Passaic County; and $15 million for East Rutherford.

*$40,000 for Commercial Township under the U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

*For Perth Amboy, three bond ordinances including $10.3 million in storm-related work, plus $3.25 million for capital and for $3.24 million for wastewater improvements. The work is all storm-related, the board was told. 

*For East Orange, $2.1 million regarding tax appeals.

*$10 million for Seaside Heights for storm-related work.

*$1.1 million for the Carneys Point Sewer Authority infrastructure improvements.  

*$10.8 million for a water main project by Lower Township Municipal Utilities Authority.

*$25 million for Cumberland County Improvement Authority regarding a board of social services employment and training facility project that will be constructed.  

Local Finance Board defers Middlesex application, raises questions over Pucci compensation