Top officials at one of the state’s largest public authorities gave themselves huge bonuses and failed to properly award contracts to vendors, according to a new audit by the Office of the State Comptroller.

The Middlesex County Improvement Authority paid substantial annual bonuses to its upper management that were not provided for in their employment contracts, including a payment of more than $55,000 to the executive director that raised his stated salary by 30 percent in 2010, an Office of the State Comptroller audit has found.

In total, the audit found the authority paid its top four officials more than $100,000 annually in such “management incentive” bonuses, in addition to the contractual 2.5 percent salary increase received by three of those officials. In addition to the bonuses not being referenced in the officials’ employment contracts, the MCIA personnel manual makes no mention of a management incentive bonus program. The State Comptroller discovered the bonuses only through a review of individual payroll records.

Similar bonuses have been handed out to the same four authority officials going back at least as far as 2007 and through 2011. No other employee received such a bonus payment.

“This has been going on for a number of years, even through the heart of the recession these payments were being made” said State Comptroller Matt Boxer.

The MCIA’s executive director – whose base salary of $185,384 is higher than the base salary of the Governor of New Jersey – ultimately received $249,366 in total compensation from MCIA in 2010, including the $55,617 incentive bonus, a $4,800 car allowance and a $3,565 payment for unused sick time. In comparison, the compensation paid to the Middlesex County Administrator in 2010 totaled $153,400.

“That total, $249,366 is a pretty remarkable figure for a public official” said Boxer.

The other three MCIA officials – an administrator, the chief financial officer and the director of administration – received bonuses that ranged from $11,600 to $20,500 in both 2009 and 2010.

In addition to the employee compensation issues, the audit found MCIA’s contracting practices did not comply with state procurement law because MCIA failed to solicit price quotations from prospective vendors as required.

“They were using criteria that were easily manipulated, which resulted in them awarded contracts to the same vendors year after year.”

Boxer said they are also investigating other public authorities around the state.

“Our efforts are ongoing at other improvement authorities and those entities could be the subject of further audits or inquiries as well” added Boxer.

The authority has disputed all of the audit’s findings.