Atlantic County is preparing to take on New Jersey to end the state takeover of Atlantic City and repeal the controversial PILOT bill.
In an emergency meeting Friday, the Atlantic County Mayors Association voted to invite all state officials representing Atlantic County to its next meeting April 28 in Brigantine to discuss what can be done to amend the PILOT bill.
The PILOT lets casinos make fixed payments totaling $120 million per year in lieu of property taxes for 10 years.
If the mayors and county administration are not satisfied with the state officials’ answers, they will file a lawsuit against the state, County Executive Dennis Levinson said.
Meanwhile, the county is considering filing an injunction to freeze the bill.
“This is not Atlantic County against Atlantic City,” Levinson said. “This is between the casinos and the noncasino taxpayers.”
The issues stem from the county not receiving the 13.5 percent of the PILOT money from casinos that Gov. Chris Christie promised them.
Instead, the county will receive 10.4 percent of the annual PILOT collection. The difference in percentage means the county will get just less than $12.5 million annually, not the $16.2 million it would have received with the higher percentage.
That difference will be in effect over the 10-year lifespan of the bill.
The amount taxes will be increased countywide is yet to be determined.
Levinson said it will range from 5 cents to 15 cents per $100 of equalized value. That could mean a tax-bill increase of $100 to $300 for a $200,000 home.
Christie spokesman Brian Murray said Monday the county did not live up to expectations in helping the city to recover. Therefore, the county didn’t deserve to get the 13.5 percent, he said.
A message asking what the county could have done was not immediately returned.
Levinson said the county offered to buy the city’s Municipal Utilities Authority for $100 million and offered to provide city trash pickup.
The city declined both offers, he said, adding the city wanted a guarantee the county would hire the same workers for trash pickup and pay them the same salary.
He also said he is reluctant to cut the county budget.
The budget has been raised in recent years from $193 million in 2013 to about $201 million in 2016.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, and state Senate candidate Colin Bell, also a Democrat, blamed Republican infighting for the situation the county faces.
“For two years, the process of determining the PILOT allocation has always been an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county with Atlantic County picking up additional responsibilities to get to 13.5 percent,” Mazzeo wrote in a statement. “The county executive knows that and allowed himself to be played by the governor without a backup plan.”
Mazzeo also defended the PILOT bill, saying it has helped stabilize the tax base.
“If the Mayors Association wants to look at who’s responsible for a potential county tax increase, it needs to look no further than county government,” he said.
Levinson, meanwhile, said Mazzeo voted to support the 13.5 percent at a Mayors Association meeting at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology two years ago.
“Obviously, whoever wrote that statement for Mazzeo didn’t ask him to read it before it was sent,” Levinson said.
Mazzeo, however, has said that the issue should be resolved and agreed upon by the city and the county, regardless of what the percentage is.
In a statement, Assemblyman Chris Brown referenced a competing bill that he sponsored with Speaker Vincent Prieto in 2016 that had the 13.5 percent included as well as financial benchmarks for the city to meet instead of a takeover.
He said that bill was the best solution and that Atlantic City’s budget should not be balanced off the backs of Atlantic County residents.
“Which is why I put the 13.5 percent into the bill I prepared with Speaker Prieto, only to have the governor break his promise and work with Whelan and Mazzeo, who removed the $40 million in property-tax relief for our county families,” Brown said. “The Christie, Whalen, Mazzeo team strikes again.”