The mayor of Monroe Township and the executive director of the Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA) is under fire.  Richard Pucci's salary and perks are being questioned as the state considers whether or not to let the MCIA borrow almost $20 million.

Richard Pucci
Richard Pucci (Photo Courtesy of Township of Monroe)

Recently, the New Jersey Local Finance Board received an application from the MCIA to issue $19,500,000 of bonds to help pay for various equipment acquisitions with five-year and ten-year leases. The Board withheld approval of the application at its July meeting and is conducting a review because members are concerned fees attached to the application would be used to help fund the compensation being received by Pucci.

Pucci also gets a second compensation package as Mayor of Monroe Township.

The argument in favor of the bond proposal is that the MCIA gets better rates on its debt than the other local governments if they borrowed money on their own, and it helps them save money on interest costs. As part of the proposal, borrowers would pay roughly $400,000 in fees to lawyers, consultants, banks, etc in addition to amounts needed for capital equipment. Among these fees is $60,000 to help the authority pay its own expenses. That is the portion that the Local Finance Board is concerned might be partly funneled to Pucci.

"The financing that we do for these towns through this capital lease program is a very minor, minor portion of our overall operation," explained Pucci. "That question (about fees going toward compensation) was never raised before and we've been doing this for 20 years before the board as far as that program. It involves about $175 from that particular fee that would go towards my salary so it's actually a non-issue."

The Local Finance Board is scheduled to meet on August 14 to consider the bond application again.

His most recent contract with the authority gives Pucci an annual $210,000 salary and a $400 per month car allowance. He also receives 25 vacation days, 14 holidays, and is entitled to full pension and health benefits, as well as compensation for unused vacation days. Based on his years of service, if Pucci continues working through 2016 under his current contract and then retires, he will be entitled to an annual pension payment that exceeds $150,000 per year.

"There's a lot of justification for it," said Pucci. "I've been there since the beginning. I started it as one employee and now we're over 600 employees so it's not as if I'm a Johnny-come-lately. I've been here since the beginning. I'm a professional. That's my career."

The MCIA began as a $25,000 operation, but it is now a $70 million operation said Pucci. He said his salary should be compared to the head of the Economic Development Authority who makes more than he does despite running a smaller operation. Pucci pointed out that Gov. Christie put his stamp of approval on that salary.

As mayor, Pucci has been paid more than $30,000 in each of the past several years from Monroe where he receives a salary for being mayor as well as a $9,000 annual payment for opting out of town health benefits, and not requiring local taxpayers to foot the bill for a second health care package. Pucci receives health benefits through his position at the MCIA.

This is not the first time the spotlight has been turned on Pucci. Last year, State Comptroller Matt Boxer's office issued a scathing report about a $55,000 bonus he was given as MCIA executive director for (among other things) dressing appropriately and working well with others. The full report can be found here.

Following the Comptroller's report, Christie blasted Pucci.

"Feeding at the public trough like that is disgraceful," said Christie on Townsquare Media's "Ask the Governor" show on August 23, 21012. "Mayor Pucci can maybe thumb his nose to the taxpayers of Middlesex County but he cannot thumb his nose at the governor's office."

One of the things the Comptroller's report found that does not get much attention according to Pucci is that the Authority's finances were in order.  He feels that's something about which the Authority should be proud after such a comprehensive probe by the Comptroller's office.

Last year, Mayor Pucci tried to exceed the new two percent cap on property tax hikes by charging his taxpayers too much money. The township said at the time that the increase was due to a clerical error and it would be remedied.

Also In the August, 2012 edition of "Ask the Governor" Christie blasted Pucci calling him a "problem mayor" and promised to look into the high tax hike after host Eric Scott had commented on the concern that, "municipal taxes increased 41 percent" in Monroe Twp. The Governor ordered Richard Constable, commissioner of NJ's Dept. of Community Affairs to find out, "what's going on in Monroe Township."

State officials discovered that Monroe Township had gone $530,000 over the cap and ultimately forced Pucci to issue new tax bills.


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