State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, would like Atlantic County to study leasing or purchasing the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, to give the city an influx of cash and protect the city’s drinking water, he said Friday.

“The ACUA (Atlantic County Utilities Authority) is a very well-run organization. If they did a lease, they could continue to protect the public interest for quality of water, and there would be no outrageous rate hikes,” Whelan said.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said no one has spoken to him or any of his administrative staff about details of how such a lease or sale would work.

“People have to sit down and get into one room,” Levinson said.

He said his staff’s expertise could be better utilized.

“Perhaps we can have something to offer, but they can’t just come and ask us for our money,” said Levinson.

ACUA President Rick Dovey could not be reached for comment.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney recently made the same suggestion that the county take over the ACMUA. He also said the county should bond to allow the city to pay off its tax refunds to the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa.

But Whelan said he is not encouraging the county to bond to pay debt.

He would rather see the county continue to do more economic development work, he said. Last year the county hired a firm to come up with an economic development strategy and plan to diversify the county economy. It is now funding the startup of an independent nonprofit to put the plan into action, called the Atlantic County Economic Alliance.

The county also recently announced it will finance, through the Atlantic County Improvement Authority, the construction of the first building at the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park at Atlantic City International Airport. It is expected to be a 66,000-square-foot building that will cost about $17 million.

Whelan was returning from a trip to Newark, where he taped a New Jersey Public Television “On the Record with Michael Aron” interview focused on Atlantic City finances and the potential of a state takeover.

Also on the show with him were Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and City Council President Marty Small, Whelan said.

He said the city needs to get a cash infusion from leasing or selling the water utility. Other cash-strapped cities have leased or sold their water utility, and the city’s refusal to do so is causing resentment in other parts of the state, he said.

The topic came up on the show, which airs 6:30 p.m. today and 10:30 a.m. Sunday on New Jersey Public Television.

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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