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Atlantic County residents face substantial tax increase after proposed city budget

Atlantic County residents face substantial tax increase after proposed city budget

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Atlantic County residents could see a substantial increase in taxes this year.

In Atlantic City’s first budget address since the state took control of its finances, city and state officials announced the county would not be receiving the 13.5 percent of casino payments in lieu of property taxes promised last year before the legislation was passed.

Instead, the county will receive 10.4 percent of the annual so-called PILOT agreement.

The move is a major blow to the county that ultimately will cost taxpayers $40 million to make up the difference over the 10-year lifespan of the bill, officials said.

The amount taxes will be increased countywide is yet to be determined. County Executive Dennis Levinson said it will range anywhere from 5 cents to 15 cents per $100 of equalized value. That could mean a county tax-rate increase between $100 and $300 for a $200,000 home.

“The special interests won and the people lost,” Levinson said. “Welcome to New Jersey.”

The PILOT lets Atlantic City casinos collectively pay $120 million each year for a decade in lieu of property taxes, so long as casino revenue stays at current levels.

The fight over who gets the PILOT money had been a major issue for the county that has delayed the introduction of its annual budget.

The county wanted a 13.5 percent piece of the PILOT pie, which reflected the county’s historic share. But city officials said the county should get just 10.4 percent, which is in line with what the county has received recently. It’s a difference of $4 million per year.

Ultimately, the state made the decision on the share because it has control of the city’s finances.

The decision led several mayors across the county to call Gov. Chris Christie a liar. Christie, who released a statement praising the tax decrease and reduced budget in Atlantic City, promised Levinson last year that the county would get the 13.5 percent.

“It’s in the legislation. It’s part of the bill,” Christie said during a news conference in April 2016. “Unlike dealing with (Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian), Denny knows that if I say it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen.”

But the 13.5 percent was not in the final PILOT legislation that was passed by state lawmakers.

Levinson never blamed the governor personally, but instead said he got bad guidance from the person overseeing Atlantic City, former U.S. Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa.

Several mayors on Tuesday said that they never would have supported the PILOT Bill without the guarantee of the county’s share.

“We were taken for a ride,” said Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy, a Republican. “This area has suffered tremendously from Atlantic City and its issues.”

Purdy accused Christie of going back on his word.

The Christie administration, meanwhile, blamed the county for not helping solve Atlantic City’s issues.

“Unfortunately, the county has not lived up to its commitments to the state to help Atlantic City achieve efficiencies and savings,” said Brian Murray, Christie’s press secretary. “As a result, those failures make it unfair and impossible to provide the increased level of aid requested by the county and which the state had hoped to be able to provide.”

In the past year, the county has repaid Atlantic City about $65 million in back taxes because of over-assessments. County employees have taken several furlough days to cut costs and have assumed responsibility for the city’s Meals on Wheels program, among others.

Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said Atlantic City’s budget should not be balanced on the backs of Atlantic County working families “who didn’t create the mess in the first place.”

Contact: 609-272-7260

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