Home>Highlight>Mercer County wasted $4.5 million on penalties for late tax filings, state comptroller says

David Miller, left, joins Mercer County Exective Brian Hughes (center) to welcome Frontier Airlines to the Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing in 2017. (Photo: Mercer County/Facebook).

Mercer County wasted $4.5 million on penalties for late tax filings, state comptroller says

Hughes appointee David Miller, former county CFO, at center of investigation

By Joey Fox, January 24 2023 2:07 pm

The county government of Mercer County wasted close to $4.5 million on penalties and interest for late quarterly payroll tax filings between 2018 and 2021, according to a report released today by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC).

“Mercer County inexplicably wasted millions of dollars by failing to pay its state and federal taxes on time,” acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said in a statement. “When the government doesn’t pay the bills, the taxpayers pay the penalties.”

The findings come at an inconvenient time for County Executive Brian Hughes, who is facing a stiff Democratic primary challenge from Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton). While Hughes is not directly mentioned anywhere in the report, he was the one who appointed Chief Financial Officer David Miller, whose troubled leadership of the county finance department was at the center of the OSC’s investigation.

“The administration and the taxpayers were let down by Mr. Miller,” county spokesperson Julie Willmot said in a statement. “We are doing our level best to learn from this experience and taking steps to avoid their recurrence and to recover the expenses occasioned by Mr. Miller’s conduct and to hold him accountable.”

Miller had been a fixture of the Hughes administration since its very beginning, joining the county government in January 2004 – the same month Hughes first took office. 

According to the OSC’s report, under Miller’s leadership, the county finance department “lacked basic internal financial controls” and had no organizational system for catching problems or providing checks and balances. Additionally, Miller did not have the necessary licenses and certifications to serve as CFO, an issue which was disclosed when he was suspended in August 2022; he has since been terminated.

The result of Miller’s tenure as CFO was 13 consecutive quarters of late tax payments from Mercer County, incurring $5.5 million in penalties and interest charges, an amount that was eventually reduced to $4.48 million.

Following Miller’s suspension in August, Willmot told the Trentonian’s Isaac Avilucea that “the county is securing the necessary professionals with the required fiscal credentials for the services to be performed.” Avilucea also reported that Hughes had “dodged questions about the personnel blunder.”

In her statement from today, Willmot said it was “curious” that the OSC would release a report on a matter which was already the subject of an internal county investigation and which is now being handled by law enforcement.

“Although the OSC report admonishes the administration for poor oversight of Mr. Miller and the department he managed, the report, finding nothing to the contrary, does not dispute that the administration and the county are themselves victims of Mr. Miller’s failure to maintain the proper credentials and licenses for his job,” she said.

The primary fight between Hughes and Benson has already become a highly contentious and competitive one, and today’s report may become a line of attack for the Benson campaign. Both candidates plan on continuing their campaigns all the way to the June primary, regardless of who  gets the organization line at the Mercer Democratic convention.

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