TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Today, Mayor Reed Gusciora congratulated Jasi Edwards, Crystal Feliciano, and Yazminelly Gonzalez on winning the three At-large seats on the Trenton City Council in a decisive victory; the New Jersey Globe and the Trentonian have called the Trenton Council At-Large Run-Off Election in favor of these three councilmembers-elect. In a historic first, women will hold six out of seven elected positions on the Trenton City Council.
With all election districts reporting, Edwards received 1,966 votes, Feliciano received 1,939 votes, and Gonzalez received 1,823 votes. Finishing behind the three winners were Taiwanda Terry-Wilson (996 votes) Alexander Bethea (879 votes), and Kadja Manuel (764 votes). These numbers may change slightly after the remaining mail and provisional ballots are counted.
Mayor W. Reed Gusciora stated, “Over the last four years, political gridlock turned into deadlock. Our administration has always sought compromise and collaboration as we work to revitalize our city’s economy, improve the quality of drinking water, and keep our streets safe. Yaz, Crystal, and Jasi will be incredible advocates for Trentonians, and they’ll join our four city councilmembers as critical partners.”
While it is unclear when the official results of the election will be announced by the Mercer County Clerk and certified by the Trenton City Clerk, it is expected that the winners of the Trenton Council At-Large Run-Off Election will soon thereafter be sworn in. While Mayor Reed Gusciora and four ward representatives currently serving on the Trenton City Council had been sworn in on January 1, 2023, they agreed to delay their inauguration until the entire legislative body had been elected.
As a result, a public inauguration will be held for Mayor Reed Gusciora and the soon-to-be seven member Trenton City Council at the War Memorial Building on February 10, 2023, at 6:00 p.m. Additional information will be made available to the public when the results of the Trenton Council At-Large Run-Off Election have been certified.
Mayor W. Reed Gusciora affirmed, “This recent news is welcomed, but we can only celebrate victory after our shared goals have been achieved. We’re very glad, however, that all elected city councilmembers are committed to producing a renaissance in the Capital City. We’re ready and prepared to move this city forward.”
UPPER FREEHOLD (MONMOUTH) ROBBINSVILLE (MERCER)–Around 7:17 p.m. both Robbinsville and Allentown firefighters were dispatched to Old York Road between New Street and Herbert Road for a head on collision with injuries. Robbinsville Police, NJ State Police, Captial Health Allentown EMS and Paramedics, Robbinsville EMS, Millstone Township Fire/EMS and Monmouth County Paramedics also responded to the scene.
Upon arrival it was found that a person in a car ran head on into a pickup truck and the driver of the car was entrapped. Firefighters from both Hope Fire Company of Allentown and Robbinsville Fire Department worked to free the injured driver. The driver was turned over to EMS and transported to the Trauma Center at Captial Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton. A “trauma alert” was called en route to the hospital.
Occupants from the pickup truck were treated by Captial Health EMS Allentown and also transported to Captial Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton.
New Jersey State Police is investigation the crash and currently the roadway is closed for a serious traffic investigation.
No other details are available at this time.
Update at 10:45 p.m. The Hope Fire Company of Allentown was requested to respond back to the scene to help pry the vehicles apart so they could be towed away.
Old York Road borders both Robbinsville in Mercer County and Upper Freehold Township in Monmouth County.
EWING (Mercer) – Two separate accidents – including one in which a person was critically injured – occurred within 90 minutes of each other and about a mile apart along Route 31 this evening (Wednesday, Jan. 25).
The first accident, which involved two vehicles, was reported just before 4:25 p.m. at the intersection of Route 31 (Pennington Road) and Carlton Avenue, in front of the main entrance to the College of New Jersey. One of the vehicles flipped and came to rest on its side. Police, firefighters and EMS personnel responded and found that both drivers had suffered only injuries and neither was trapped. While EMS personnel from Ewing and Pennington transported the injured to local hospitals, Ewing firefighters spread absorbent material on the road to contain mixed automotive fluids spilled from wrecked vehicles. Firefighters then stood by while the wreckage was removed by a tow truck.
The collision forced Ewing police to close Route 31 and TCNJ police to close the college’s main entrance. Those closures created lengthy traffic backups at the college’s other entrance on Green Lane.
At 5:48 p.m. Ewing police, EMS personnel and firefighters were dispatched to the intersection of Route 31 and Somerset Street for a reported “pedestrian struck.” Emergency workers arrived to find a critically injured person down in the roadway. CPR was performed on the scene before the accident victim was rushed by ambulance to the trauma center at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton. The elderly male pedestrian succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
Both incidents are under investigation by Ewing police and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Serious Collision Response Team.
Update on the pedestrian motor vehicle crash below from Ewing Police Department:
An investigation revealed that Walter Decanio, 59, of Howell Township was driving nearly 80 miles per hour and under the influence of alcohol, traveling southbound on U.S. Route 9, when he collided with the side of the Nissan Altima as it passed through the intersection westbound on Route 520.
January 25, 2023
FREEHOLD – A local man has been criminally charged in connection with a motor-vehicle collision that claimed the life of a young woman in Marlboro Township early last year, Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago announced Wednesday.
Walter Decanio, 59, of Howell Township is charged with first-degree Aggravated Manslaughter while Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and second-degree Vehicular Homicide for his role in the death of a 22-year-old female resident of Monroe Township (Middlesex County).
Shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 13, 2022, members of the Marlboro Township Police Department and Old Bridge Police Department responded to the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and County Route 520/Newman Springs Road in the Morganville section of Marlboro. At that location, officers located the two vehicles involved in the collision: a 2019 Cadillac XT5 crossover operated by Decanio and a 2018 Nissan Altima.
The female victim sustained multiple severe injuries as the result of the collision and was pronounced deceased a short while later. Decanio was uninjured.
An investigation involving members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Marlboro Township Police Department determined that Decanio was driving nearly 80 miles per hour and under the influence of alcohol, traveling southbound on U.S. Route 9, when he collided with the side of the Nissan Altima as it passed through the intersection westbound on Route 520.
Decanio was also issued summonses for Failure to Observe a Traffic Control Device, Failure to Wear a Seat Belt, Speeding, Reckless Driving, and Operating a Vehicle while Under the Influence of Alcohol. He turned himself in to authorities without incident last week pending a first appearance to take place in Monmouth County Superior Court.
Anyone with information about this matter is still being asked to contact Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Brian Boryszewski at 800-533-7443 or Marlboro Police Department Corporal David Ruditsky at 732-536-0100.
This case has been assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Doyle. Decanio is being represented by Mitchell J. Ansell, Esq., with an office in Ocean Township.
Convictions on criminal charges of this nature are punishable by up to 20 years in state prison, with such terms subject to New Jersey’s No Early Release Act (NERA), which stipulates that 85 percent of the sentences be served before the possibility of parole.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.
FREEHOLD – A Monmouth County Grand Jury has returned a three-count indictment against a Long Branch man in connection with a shooting that left one victim injured, Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago announced Wednesday.
Donte Gibson, 27, of Long Branch, is charged with one count of first-degree Attempted Murder, one count of second-degree Possession of a Firearm for an Unlawful Purpose, and one count of second-degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon.
At approximately 9:45 p.m. on the night of Monday, October 10, 2022, West Long Branch Police responded to a convenience store on the 800 block of Broadway for a report of shots being fired. It was later discovered that a shooting victim had been dropped off at a local hospital for treatment. The victim sustained injuries to his hip and forearm, and was treated and later released.
This shooting incident was one of three that took place that same day. The two other incidents, both in Long Branch, are still under investigation at this time.
For anyone with information regarding these shooting incidents, please contact Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Joshua Rios or Brian Migliorisi at 800-533-7443, Long Branch Police Department Detective Nicholas Romano at 732-222-1000, Ext. 2, or West Long Branch Police Department Detective Ryan Buck at 732-229-5000.
The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Bogner, Director of the MCPO Major Crimes Bureau.
Gibson is represented by Carlos Diaz-Cobo Esq., of New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.
EAST WINDSOR, NJ (MERCER)–Mayor Janice S. Mironov and local legislators joined Jersey Mike’s and Prestige New Jersey All-Star United States 2023, chaired by Evelyn McCleod, for a service event to honor the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The service project was to designate and promote Jersey Mike’s as a drop off site for residents to bring lightly used clothing, coats, shoes and children’s clothing and warm socks for those in need. The donations are to benefit area non-profits Rise and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (T.A.S.K.). Additionally, Jersey Mike’s donated a portion of proceeds from pre-ordering subs for Super Bowl parties to support these area organizations. Jersey Mike’s East Windsor, located in the East Windsor Township Center Plaza at 319 Route 130 North, will continue to accept donations through the end of February.
Mayor Mironov stated, “East Windsor Township recognizes service as an important community value and is grateful to Jersey Mike’s and Prestige New Jersey for initiating and partnering on this project to help others. Since 2011, Jersey Mike’s locations throughout the country have raised more than $67 million for worthy local charities. It is especially meaningful to do so honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and this “Day of Service”. We specifically thank Evelyn McCleod of Prestige New Jersey All-Star United States 2023 for all her good work, as well as the Jersey Mike’s hosts, franchise owners Evan Mayer and Gerrit Curran; Director of Operations Tom Orrok, and General Manager Mike Mariano for their generous support of our local non-profit Rise and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, which has served over 6 million meals to County residents.”
Assemblyman Dan Benson stated, “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday designated as a “National Day of Service”, and it was great to join together at Jersey Mike’s to support this positive example of community partnership to help those in need.”
Evelyn McCleod, Prestige New Jersey All-Star United States 2023, reminded everyone, “Service to others isn’t an annual event; it’s a lifestyle!”.
East Windsor Mayor Janice S. Mironov, Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman Dan Benson join Jersey Mike’s staff and volunteers for a Day of Service. Pictured (from left to right) are: Mike Mariano, General Manager; Leah Martucci, Rutgers Intern – Rise; Assemblyman Dan Benson; North Jersey Outstanding Teen Kylie; Evelyn McCleod, Prestige New Jersey All-Star United States 2023; Mayor Janice S. Mironov; Gerrit Curran, owner; Senator Linda Greenstein; and Diane McGinn.
Boca Raton, FL, – Peter Grehlinger, a 61-year-old survivor of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia met the man who saved his life with a blood stem cell transplant, 34-year-old Tory Foster. The heartwarming and emotional introduction took place at the Gift of Life Marrow Registry Steps for Life 5k Run & Walk in Boca Raton January 22, 2023 at the FAU Stadium.
Grehlinger, an engineer, husband and father of two resides in Allentown, N.J. and was thrilled to meet Foster, a father of an 11-year-old son from The Villages, Fla. The two had never met before, as transplants are anonymous for the first year under federal regulations.
Foster, who donated to Grehlinger in August 2021, joined the registry in 2019 at a Misfits Gaming viewing party held at Florida Southern College.
The two were introduced by Gift of Life Steps for Life 5k co-founders and co-chairs Wendy Schulman, Dana Aberman and Donna Krasner. After sharing Grehlinger’s story with attendees, they invited Foster to join them and meet his recipient for the first time. The emotional pair shared a warm hug and were thrilled to finally meet each other.
“With my donors DNA ‘floating around inside of me’, we share a natural bond,” said Grehlinger. “I hope Tory realizes what a great deed he has done.”
“I’ve always wanted to help people, and this was the ultimate way of helping someone,” said Foster. “I was very happy about being able to do something like this for someone. You could be the reason someone sees tomorrow.”
The 13th annual family-friendly race featured a 5k that was chip-timed and certified along with children’s activities including a petting zoo, face painting, bounce house, Superhero Sprint, music, snacks and more.
The event benefited Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a nonprofit registry for blood stem cell and marrow donors facilitating matches between donors and patients. Stem cell and marrow transplants have the potential to cure leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell, inherited immune disorders, and 70 other life-threatening conditions.
Gift of Life is currently searching for donors for multiple blood cancer patients. Those wishing to join the registry and learn if they are a lifesaving match for a patient can visit https://www.giftoflife.org/register.
“For 30 years Gift of Life has had one mission – to ensure that every patient has a donor available at the time they are needed,” said Gift of Life Founder and CEO, Jay Feinberg, himself a transplant survivor. “Every person fighting to overcome blood cancer deserves a second chance at life. Our donors tell us that saving a cancer patient’s life is one of the most incredible, life-changing experiences possible.”
About Gift of Life Marrow Registry
Gift of Life Marrow Registry is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla. Established in 1991, Gift of Life Marrow Registry is dedicated to saving lives by facilitating blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants for patients battling leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell, inherited immune disorders, and other blood-related diseases. To learn more about Gift of Life Marrow Registry, visit giftoflife.org.
Manchester Township NJ – On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, at approximately 3:32 pm, officers from the Manchester Township Police Department responded to the area of County Road 530 near the intersection of Lacey Road to investigate a motor vehicle crash involving two motor vehicles that crashed head on.
Upon arrival at the scene, officers observed a Dodge Magnum in the eastbound lane of County Road 530 and a Toyota Rav4 off the roadway on the eastbound shoulder. Both vehicles were observed to have extensive front-end damage concentrated on the driver side of the vehicles. The investigation revealed that the Dodge was traveling westbound on County Road 530 when it crossed over the center painted median into oncoming traffic. At that time, the Toyota was traveling eastbound on County Road 530 and the front driver side of the Dodge impacted the front driver side of the Toyota.
The driver of the Dodge, identified as 25-year-old, Nicholas Briggs of Whiting, NJ, was uninjured from the crash but was transported to Community Medical Center for precautionary reasons due to the seriousness of the collision. The driver of the Toyota, identified as 61-year-old, Jorie Sanzone of Forked River, NJ, was extricated from her vehicle by first responders and suffered possible internal injuries. She was flown to Jersey Shore University Medical Hospital by Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health’s LifeFlight medevac helicopter where she is currently listed in critical but stable condition.
Assisting at the scene were EMTs and firefighters from the Manchester Township Division of Emergency Services, Robert Wood Johnson Paramedics, and firefighters from the Whiting Volunteer Fire Department. The investigation into this crash is still on going, however, failure to maintain lane appears to be the primary contributing factor. This crash is being investigated by Ptl. Michael O’Hara of the department’s Traffic Safety section.
An Office of the State Comptroller investigation reveals Mercer County regularly failed to make timely and sufficient payroll tax payments.
January 25, 2023
TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–The Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) released a report today revealing that Mercer County paid nearly $4.5 million in penalties and interest for delinquent tax filings and payments between 2018 and 2021. During this period, the Mercer County Finance Department regularly failed to make adequate and timely payroll tax payments to both the Internal Revenue Service and the New Jersey Division of Taxation.
Employers are required to file quarterly payroll taxes to both state and federal tax agencies. For each delinquent filing, Mercer County was assessed penalties and interest charges. In total, the County incurred $5.5 million in penalties and interest for delinquent taxes. But with abatements of penalties from the Internal Revenue Service, the amount owed and paid was reduced to $4.48 million.
“Mercer County inexplicably wasted millions of dollars by failing to pay its state and federal taxes on time,” said Kevin Walsh, Acting State Comptroller. “When the government doesn’t pay the bills, the taxpayers pay the penalties.”
OSC’s investigation found that the county finance department, led by Mercer County’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), lacked basic internal financial controls; it did not have an organizational chart, written policies, or a system of checks and balances to ensure that its financial system was properly managed.
During the investigation, OSC also discovered that the CFO did not have nor did he seek to obtain the statutorily required credentials to hold the position of CFO—for the entire time he was employed by the County. By law, the CFO is required to hold a county finance officer certificate, which involves training courses, prior experience as a finance officer, and certain higher education requirements. In August 2022, Mercer County informed OSC that the CFO was placed on administrative leave without pay for his failure to secure the credentials.
Appointed by the County Executive, the CFO operated independently, with minimal oversight by his supervisor, OSC found. The County Administrator, who manages day-to-day affairs for county government, told OSC that she gave the CFO substantial discretion in handling departmental operations. In the absence of effective internal controls monitored by executive level employees, the deference provided to the CFO allowed the waste to go undetected for years.
Mercer County failed to make timely tax payments for 13 consecutive quarters from July 2018 through September 2021. During that time, there was only one quarter in which the County was not charged interest due to late payments; during that quarter, the County had instead overpaid by more than $3 million. The IRS automatically applied part of that overpayment to the County’s prior delinquent taxes and returned the remainder.
“The County didn’t take basic steps to prevent these wasteful payments and didn’t catch that its unlicensed CFO wasn’t paying the County’s bills on time,” said Walsh. “This wasn’t a one-time mistake. It was a pattern that went on for years.”
Although OSC made several requests, the County did not provide a complete list of all of its bank accounts, the names of the individuals who had access to accounts, or any documentation establishing how penalties and interest were paid.
OSC recommended changes to increase financial oversight and prevent future waste. The County has agreed to implement OSC’s recommendations and has formed a Finance Committee to oversee the operations of MCFD.
An Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) investigation has found that Mercer County incurred and paid nearly $4.5 million in penalties and interest for delinquent tax filings and payments between 2018 and 2021, resulting in waste that was paid by Mercer County taxpayers. During that time period, the Mercer County Finance Department (MCFD) consistently made insufficient and untimely payroll tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the New Jersey Division of Taxation (Division of Taxation). For each delinquent filing, Mercer County was assessed penalties and interest that could have been avoided.
In the course of the investigation, OSC also discovered that the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the County lacked the statutorily required certificate to serve as CFO. OSC also found that MCFD’s operations contravene best practices for the management and operation of a public entity’s finance department, creating additional risk for fraud, waste, and abuse.
In order to avoid penalties and interest and to ensure that taxpayer funds are protected, OSC makes six recommendations to Mercer County at the conclusion of this report.
A. Mercer County Government
Mercer County operates under a county executive form of government with a Board of Commissioners serving as the County’s legislative body and a County Executive administering county operations.1 The Board consists of seven members elected to three-year staggered terms.2 The Board is responsible for (1) adopting the County’s Administrative Code; (2) passing ordinances and resolutions; (3) reviewing, modifying, and adopting all operating and capital budgets; (4) evaluating and studying the County’s annual budget before final approval; and (5) entering into contracts with municipalities in the county.3
The County Executive is elected to a four-year term of office.4 The Office of the County Executive is responsible for oversight of the County’s various departments. Department heads are appointed by the County Executive, with advice and consent from the Board.5 Within the Office of the County Executive, the County Administrator manages the day-to-day operations of the County.
B. County Chief Financial Officer
New Jersey law requires every county to appoint a CFO who is responsible for the proper financial administration of the county.6 The CFO’s statutory duties include, among other things, (1) acting as custodian of all public funds; (2) developing a system of internal controls to protect assets and ensure proper accounting compliance; and (3) complying with IRS regulations regarding employee payroll and vendor payments.7 County CFOs are appointed for three-year terms and must hold a county finance officer certificate issued by the Division of Local Government Services (LGS), a division within the state Department of Community Affairs.8 Requirements to obtain a certificate include certain higher education requirements, experience as a county finance officer, and satisfactory completion of various training courses.9
The Mercer County CFO is appointed by the County Executive and serves as Treasurer and Director of the Finance Department. In addition to the CFO’s statutory duties, the Mercer County CFO is responsible for providing accounting records and preparing the county’s annual financial statements, preparing the annual budget, and providing for long-term capital financing for county entities. 10
C. Federal and State Payroll Taxes
Employers, including governmental entities, must pay federal and state payroll taxes based on a percentage of an employee’s compensation. The employer is responsible for withholding the correct amount of payroll taxes from each employee’s paycheck and remitting the funds to federal and state taxing authorities, along with the employer’s share of the payroll taxes.11 These federal and state tax deposits must be remitted to the taxing authorities in a timely manner after each payroll cycle. The due date for the payroll tax deposits is based on the employer’s size and the frequency of payroll cycles.12 Employers are required to prepare and file quarterly payroll tax returns with the federal and state taxing authorities. The returns are due on the last day of the month following the end of the quarter. The return calculates quarterly payroll taxes, reconciles payroll taxes due to amounts previously paid, and identifies additional taxes that must be paid and refunds owed to employers.13
D. Payroll Tax Penalties
Employers that do not timely file payroll tax returns are subject to a penalty.14 For federal payroll taxes, the penalty is set at five percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late, and is capped at 25 percent of the employer’s unpaid taxes. If the employer’s return is more than 60 days late, the minimum failure to file penalty is $435 or 100 percent of the tax required to be shown on the return, whichever is less. A failure to file penalty is capped after five months.
Employers that do not pay the tax reported on their return by the due date are subject to a separate penalty, known as a “Failure to Pay Penalty.”15 This penalty continues until the delinquent tax is paid, up to a maximum of 25 percent of the unpaid tax. In addition to the failure to pay penalty, the IRS also charges interest on any unpaid payroll tax until the balance is paid in full.16
The Division of Taxation also charges penalties and interest for the late filing and payment of state payroll tax returns. Like the IRS, the Division of Taxation imposes a late filing penalty of five percent of the unpaid tax for each month or part of a month a payroll tax return is late, capped at 25 percent of the total unpaid tax.17 The Division of Taxation also charges a five percent late payment penalty for the underpayment of taxes in addition to interest on the unpaid balance due.18
OSC’s investigation was initiated upon receipt of a confidential complaint in 2021. OSC is authorized to conduct investigations concerning alleged fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of State funds, designed to provide increased accountability, integrity, and oversight of county and municipal governments. To conduct its investigation, OSC obtained and examined numerous documents, including IRS account transcripts for quarterly payroll tax returns for the period of 2018 to 2021.
OSC conducted interviews with multiple current and former employees of MCFD, as well as the Mercer County Administrator. OSC attempted to interview David Miller, the Mercer County CFO during the period under review, about the operations of MCFD and the issues identified in this report. Mr. Miller through his attorney represented to OSC that if interviewed he intended to exercise his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
OSC sent discussion drafts of this Report to Mercer County and Mr. Miller to provide them with an opportunity to comment on the facts and issues identified during this review. In preparing this Report, OSC considered the responses received and incorporated them where appropriate.
A. From 2018 to 2021, Mercer County Incurred Nearly $4.5 Million in Penalties and Interest for Late Payroll Tax Filings and Payments.
1. Penalties and Fees Related to Federal Taxes
From October 2018 through the end of 2020, the County incurred over $900,000 in penalties due to its failure to file timely federal payroll tax returns, ultimately paying nearly $830,000 after an IRS abatement of $73,000.19 In 2018, the County filed its fourth quarter payroll tax return nine months late. The County failed to file even one timely payroll tax return for 2020. On average, the 2020 quarterly returns were filed five months late, with the third quarter return filed over seven months late and the fourth quarter return filed almost nine months late. This resulted in the IRS assessing late filing penalties of almost $700,000, with the County paying $600,000 after receiving an IRS abatement. IRS Account Transcripts dated May 18, 2022 indicated that the County as of that date had not filed the 2021 fourth quarter payroll tax return and, as a result, may be subject to additional penalties and interest.
Mercer County also incurred “Failure to Pay” penalties for 13 consecutive quarters from July 2018 through September 2021. This resulted in Mercer County paying over $2.7 million in penalties after the IRS abated almost $1 million in penalties for late payments for the same period.
From July 2018 through March 2021, the County also incurred over $363,000 in interest charges and paid over $334,000 after an IRS abatement. During that time, there was only one quarter in which the County was not charged interest due to late payments. For that one quarter (the third quarter of 2019), the County overpaid its tax liability by more than $3 million. The IRS automatically applied part of that overpayment to the County’s prior delinquent taxes as far back as 2015 and refunded the remaining amount.
2. Penalties and Fees Related to New Jersey State Taxes
During the course of this investigation, OSC requested information about penalties and interest Mercer County paid to the Division of Taxation in excess of its payroll tax liabilities, but the County did not provide any responsive records. As a result, OSC obtained from the Division of Taxation directly a summary of penalties and interest incurred and paid by the County since 2009. OSC found that between 2018 and 2021, the County paid $599,889 in penalties and interest.
3. MCFD Did Not Maintain Any Written Policies and Procedures Governing the Filing and Payment of Payroll Taxes
OSC requested MCFD’s written policies and procedures governing the filing and payment of payroll taxes and was informed that MCFD did not maintain any. As a result, OSC obtained information about MCFD’s payroll tax processes through interviews with MCFD employees.
As part of the payroll process, MCFD’s accounting software generates paper checks for MCFD to pay its payroll taxes. However, according to MCFD employees, Mr. Miller regularly instructed the payroll clerk to void these checks and, instead, submit the federal tax deposit through the IRS’s automated phone system. MCFD employees also reported that Mr. Miller would take the voided state payroll tax checks and wire the payments to the taxing authority himself.
MCFD employees could not identify a reason why the payroll tax deposits and returns were not timely filed. Rather, one witness reported that Mr. Miller described the penalties and interest as simply “the cost of doing business.” Further, despite several requests, the County did not provide a complete list of all its bank accounts, the names of the individuals who had access to the accounts, or documentation of how the penalties and interest were paid.
B. The County CFO Did Not Possess the Certificate Necessary to Serve in That Role.
By statute, an individual must hold a county finance officer certificate issued by LGS to serve as a County CFO.20 OSC’s investigation revealed that Mr. Miller did not hold, or even apply for, a county finance officer certificate during his entire tenure as Mercer County CFO.21 As a result, Mercer County was without a properly credentialed CFO for over a decade.
C. MCFD Failed to Follow Best Practices in the Operation of the Department and Was Inadequately Staffed.
Best practices for the management and operation of a public entity’s finance department include, among other things, reliance on a formal organizational chart; the use of written policies and procedures for each task performed by the department (e.g., the filing and payment of payroll taxes); the segregation of department duties; and thorough documentation of the responsibilities of each position within the department.22 Executive level employees should actively oversee the implementation of internal controls developed to ensure integrity in the management of public funds, monitor the performance of those controls, and work with a committee to oversee the department’s operations.23
OSC’s investigation found that the County and MCFD failed to follow these best practices, creating a risk for fraud, waste, and abuse. MCFD does not have an organizational chart clearly defining the department’s reporting structure, identifying the positions available within the department, and listing the current staff members. MCFD also does not have written policies and procedures establishing internal controls and the segregation of duties that provide checks and balances on employees involved in approving expenditures of public funds.
The County Administrator — the Mercer County representative responsible for overseeing MCFD — told OSC that she was unaware of any written policies or procedures guiding the operation of MCFD. When asked specifically about policies governing the segregation of department duties, the County Administrator stated that an employee’s formal job title and the duties assigned to that title ensure department duties are effectively segregated. When questioned further, however, she acknowledged that the formal job titles and duties do not necessarily correspond to the work MCFD employees perform or ensure the segregation of duties. Further, although the County Administrator stated that she held monthly meetings with all department heads, she provided Mr. Miller with substantial discretion with regard to his administration and operation of MCFD with no direct oversight of the department’s day-to-day operations.
In its response to a draft of this report, the County asserted that Mr. Miller was responsible for the daily operations of the Finance Department and was expected to bring issues of concern to the attention of the County Administrator. Any discretion provided to department leaders over the daily operations of their respective departments, however, does not relieve county management of the duty to proactively ensure that county departments are operating efficiently, preventing waste, and adhering to best practices.
Additionally, annual independent audits of the County repeatedly noted issues regarding a lack of adequate staffing within MCFD. The auditor noted that inadequate staffing levels resulted in untimely reconciliations and untimely compliance with audit requirements. At least twice, the external auditor discussed with the current and former County Administrators a need for additional staff in the finance department to ensure the County remained current with its audit requirements. The auditor stated that the annual audits were consistently delayed because the County did not provide the necessary documentation in a timely manner. In 2019, the external auditor recommended that the County hire a Deputy CFO.
In its response, the County stated the County Administrator was made aware in 2019 that the independent auditor recommended that MCFD hire additional staff. The County also claimed that it took steps to hire one additional staff member, a Deputy CFO, at that time. The County, however, did not actually hire a Deputy CFO until May 2022, almost three years after receiving the recommendation from the independent auditor. The County reported that the delay in hiring a Deputy CFO from 2019 to 2022 was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based upon the facts uncovered in its investigation, OSC makes the following six recommendations intended to promote more efficient government. In its response to OSC’s draft report, the County agreed to implement OSC’s recommendations, and indicated the County has already formed a Finance Committee to oversee the operations of MCFD.
Filing and Payment of Federal and State Taxes. The County should ensure that it files all taxes, including payroll taxes, in a timely manner and pays the amounts due within the timeframe required by taxing authorities. The County should also identify all outstanding tax penalties and, when applicable, promptly request abatements for those penalties.
County Employee Credentials and Licenses. The County should ensure that all employees who require a license, certificate, or other form of credential to perform their job duties possess those credentials and maintain them in good standing. The County should also adopt written policies and procedures directing the County Office of Personnel to annually verify that employees possess and maintain in good standing the credentials necessary to perform their job duties.
Development of an Organizational Chart for the Finance Department. The County should adopt an organizational chart that clearly establishes the department’s reporting structure and includes a current list of positions, employees, and supervisors.
Development of an Accounting Procedures Manual. The County should develop an accounting procedures manual. The manual should establish a clear segregation of duties and a system of checks and balances to ensure financial systems are properly managed and that issues identified in this report, such as the untimely filing of tax returns and paying payroll taxes, are avoided. A comprehensive accounting manual will also aid in the training of new employees.
Establish a Committee to Oversee MCFD Operations. The County should establish a committee to oversee MCFD, including its financial reporting practices, internal department controls, and compliance with laws and regulations affecting the department.
Increased Oversight of the CFO. Prudent financial management requires periodic review of the Mercer County Finance Department by an individual outside of MCFD and within the Office of the County Executive and the Board of Commissioners. The County CFO should be required to submit operational reports on a monthly basis that include expenditures and revenues. The monthly report should include a list of all tax liabilities and payments for that month and disclose penalties and interest.