One of the mottos for the Democratic Assembly candidates in the 2nd Legislative District has been to serve Atlantic County “from the boardwalk to the farmlands.”
Creating an economic growth zone around Atlantic City International Airport, reforming rehabilitation programs for drug abuse and creating more tax incentives for agriculture businesses are some goals Vince Mazzeo and John Armato have if they are elected to the state Assembly on Nov. 7.
Both said they believe they have the experience and background to serve the whole district.
“I don’t think this is a time to start over in Atlantic County,” Mazzeo said during a recent editorial board meeting with The Press of Atlantic City. “The whole area is starting to turn the corner through some of the things we’ve done, and I will have seniority in the Assembly if I am elected back.”
Mazzeo sees his sponsorship of the Economic Opportunity Act and the state takeover of Atlantic City as moments of leadership when there were no easy answers to the county’s economic struggles.
The Economic Opportunity Act helped put in place tax incentives for the Stockton University project in Atlantic City, while the takeover helped stabilize the city’s finances and led to the Hard Rock buying the former Trump Taj Mahal and the state settling large tax appeals with casinos, he said.
“Being in the majority party, we had to make the tough decisions,” Mazzeo said of the takeover. He added that while the people who oversee Atlantic City for the state get paid a lot of money, it was worth it because the state stepped in and settled several of the crushing casino tax appeals.
In February, state overseers reached a $72 million tax settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. The city owed Borgata $165 million after successful property-tax appeals by the casino. The settlement saved the city $93 million, according to the state.
In August, the state settled with six other casinos.
Mazzeo said that if the next governor decides to end the takeover, it needs to be done in a step-by-step process with goals and benchmarks. Eventually, he would like to see the city return to self-governance, he said.
Armato, a committeeman in Buena Vista Township, points to small things Buena Vista has done that will save money in the long term.
For example, the township combined its court with Hamilton Township, is in the process of replacing every township-owned light bulb to LEDs, and bought the residents new recycling bins.
The moves, while they may seem innocuous, will save the township millions in the long term, he said.
He argued the state government could use these tactics to save money and provide property-tax relief.
“The lights at the football and softball fields in Buena Vista are from the old Veterans Stadium, so you can see why there needed to be changes,” he said. “I can’t tell (the taxpayers) to save money when we’re not doing it ourselves.”
But the top issue Armato said he wants to tackle if elected is the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Armato’s son has been struggling with addiction for 25 years. He has been in and out of rehab, detox and jail, and the resources available from the state are not good enough to help the addict or his family, Armato said.
Armato argues there need to be more beds available in treatment centers for people who struggle with addiction. He also says the entrance requirements to treatment centers need to be reformed, as well as the amount of time an addict is allowed to stay in treatment.
“I know what it’s like to get a horrible phone call after 10 at night,” he said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about, and it’s something I know I can make a difference with in Trenton.”