ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic County officials have warred for weeks with the state over the county’s piece of casino payments in lieu of property taxes.
But percentages aside, the county still will collect more money from casinos in the PILOT program this year than it did from the same properties last year, according to casino tax bills obtained by an open public records request.
The county will receive nearly $12.5 million from the casinos included in the PILOT program.
That’s about $518,000 more than the $11.9 million the county got from those same properties in 2016.
County officials have warned a substantial tax increase will be needed without a larger share of the $120 million casinos will collectively pay.
The county wanted a 13.5 percent share, which reflected a historical average of more than 15 years. Last month, the state said the county will get just 10.4 percent, which is in line with what the county has received in recent years.
On Friday, County Administrator Jerry DelRosso acknowledged the county will get more money from the casinos even with the smaller share. But he said a “huge credit” owed to Atlantic City this year from successful tax appeals will still cause a tax hike for other towns.
Delrosso said the city is owed a $12.5 million tax credit this year, compared with a $9.5 million credit against county taxes last year. The $12.5 million credit is the second largest due to the city in a decade, according to the county. The city received a $16.6 million refund in 2013.
“Issue No. 1 is you have this large credit that debits from everybody else and credits to Atlantic City,” DelRosso said.
He added the refund will spread through other towns in a smaller county tax base, because the PILOT removes the casino ratables.
Responding to state Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Charles Richman, who last week questioned whether a tax increase would be needed, the county initially claimed it received $15.1 million from the casinos in 2016.
“The recent public statements by Commissioner Richman are extremely misleading,” DelRosso said Tuesday.
But the county’s $15.1 million figure excluded tax credits and included properties that are exempt from the PILOT because they have deed restrictions barring gambling.
A spokeswoman for the DCA, which oversees the city’s finances, also said the county received $11.9 million from the casinos in the PILOT last year.
“It is our recommendation that the county invest its time and energy in checking its math rather than putting out inaccurate statements,” DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said.
But while the county will get more from the casinos, it will get less from the city overall due to the $12.5 million tax refund, DelRosso said. The county will collect $16 million from the city and casinos this year, compared with $24.9 million the year before, he said.
Ryan said it’s still to be determined whether the county will owe the city a $12.5 million credit, and accused the county of throwing arguments against the wall to see what sticks.
The so-called PILOT law let casinos make fixed, predictable payments in lieu of property taxes for a decade in exchange for no longer appealing their assessments. Costly casino tax appeals helped put the city in hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
Some city and state officials, including Mayor Don Guardian and Gov. Chris Christie, made public statements over the years promising the county a 13.5 percent share of the PILOT. That would give the county an extra $3.7 million per year.
But when the city introduced a budget last month, the state said the county would get just 10.4 percent of the payments, because the county wouldn’t assume city services.
County officials say they offered to buy the city’s water authority and submitted a bid to collect trash and recyclables for the city. But the bid was higher than one from a private company.