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Atlantic City Taxpayers Association vows to fight during first meeting

ATLANTIC CITY — City taxpayers have formed a group to combat the rising costs of living in the resort.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Atlantic City Taxpayers Association’s mission is to “join together to challenge the crushing property tax burden placed on the people of Atlantic City,” according to a one-page flier announcing the group.

The organization was created after property owners learned in August that their taxes had increased significantly — $676.50 on a home assessed at $150,000 — even after county, school and city officials adopted budgets with flat or reduced tax rates.

The substantial increase was due to a loss of property value and the end of millions of dollars a year in tax-appeal refund credits from the county to the city, Atlantic County Tax Administrator Margaret M. Schott said.

Other South Jersey communities have formed taxpayer associations, including Brigantine, Ocean City, Beach Haven and Sea Isle City.

Mari Kehner, who lives in Atlantic City’s Lower Chelsea neighborhood, founded the Taxpayers Association, which attracted about 15 people for its first meeting Tuesday in a home on Massachusetts Avenue. Almost 100 homeowners have contacted Kehner online to express their interest in the group, she said.

“We need somebody to represent the taxpayers,” Kehner said.

Councilman Jesse O. Kurtz said it’s fantastic the city’s residents are getting organized.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver formed a task force last month to work to reduce city property taxes, but residential taxpayers and noncasino commercial taxpayers are not represented, Kurtz said.

“These two groups were hit hard. They were not protected in the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) bill, and they took it on the chin this year,” said Kurtz. “It’s great that citizens are taking it upon themselves to organize. It’s a good development.”

Tom Forkin, director and owner of the Atlantic City Surf School, hosted the taxpayers meeting. He said next year will be more problematic as the city makes its way through the reassessment process and has a $30 million bond due.

“We have to send a message not just to city officials but the state of New Jersey,” Forkin said. “These taxes are not sustainable. ... People are getting taxed out of their homes now.”

Atlantic City has a home-ownership rate of 26.3%, according to federal data, which is less than half of the 63.9% of the national average.

Sharon Zappia, 63, who is running for a seat on City Council to represent the 5th Ward, said she doesn’t believe residents receive enough services for what they pay in taxes. For instance, Zappia said, she appreciates the move toward more community policing but wants to see neighborhood coordination officers working the overnight shift, not just the day shift.

Zappia said she had her doors kicked in at 2 p.m. on a Sunday. It took police 40 minutes to arrive even though she lives close to the Public Safety Building, she said.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you must be on the menu,” said Zappia, who has lived in the city since 1977. “It would not be tolerated in Ventnor, Margate or Longport.”

The association’s purpose is to hold down taxes and, if possible, lower them, Forkin said.

“Some of us have invested our entire life savings,” Forkin said. “We are here to hold public servants accountable.”

The purpose of the meeting was not just to complain about high taxes, but to do something about it.

One of the ideas that came up at the end of the gathering was to set up a meeting with Rob Long, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency that oversees Atlantic City’s finances and operations as a result of the 2016 takeover.

Longtime Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough, 76, who recently retired and moved into the Ocean Club condominiums, said Detroit went through a bankruptcy and came out of it prospering.

More information about the Taxpayers Association can be found at shoresoftware development.com/atlanticcityhomeowners.

PHOTOS of AC Surf owner Tom Forkin in his 'Happy Place'

LAUREN CARROLL / Multimedia Reporter  

Wildwood police say they arrested 26 people during this year’s Roar to the Shore, which ran from Sept. 5 to 8. Charges ranged from weapons possession to drug possession to theft.


Local
As more outlaw bikers show up, Wildwood considers canceling Roar to Shore

WILDWOOD — Bikers with the annual Roar to the Shore event may have overstayed their welcome.

Citing an increased presence of outlaw motorcycle gangs in recent years, officials in Wildwood are considering canceling the event.

Though he’s urging a wait-and-see approach, Commissioner Pete Byron said the event has undoubtedly changed.

“It’s morphed into something that it never really started as,” Byron said. “It’s become a heavy dose of the outlaw-type of bike guys, and it’s been a little intimidating to the family-oriented biker.”

Event promoter Joe Murray did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The 23rd annual gathering took place Sept. 5 to 8, and Byron said commissioners received calls from people in the community upset with what the event has become.

The city paid about $40,000 this year for police overtime, Byron said. In a Facebook post, Wildwood police listed 26 arrests during Roar to the Shore. Multiple people were charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and were found with handguns, knives and brass knuckles. Multiple people were charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance and were found with hydrocodone, methamphetamine and marijuana. Other charges included driving under the influence, theft of movable property and conspiracy to commit robbery. It was unclear whether all the charges listed were filed against Roar participants.

Police said they worked with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and other law enforcement agencies during the event.

Even so, the event plays host to legions of biking hobbyists and nonviolent clubs who could see their annual get-together evaporate, taken over by unwelcome groups. For city businesses, the after-Labor Day event brings thousands of potential customers to the shore town when it otherwise starts to empty out.

Should the city decide the rally is not in its best interest, it can deny the permit application, Byron said. But that has no bearing on bikers choosing to congregate in town on their own.

Employees at accommodations near Rio Grande and Atlantic avenues said their guests every year have been largely peaceful.

“The gentlemen and ladies are always polite, friendly. They like staying here,” said Bob Schuler, front desk manager at the StarLux Hotel. “It’s definitely good for business here.”

Schuler said the event is always preempted by increased police presence. The only issue it’s ever caused for him is noise.

“It’s loud,” he said, laughing. “I’m a resident also. I live two blocks away, so for me, it’s loud.”

Around the corner from the StarLux, Dave Adelizzi, whose family owns the Crystal Sands Motel, said their part of the city generally doesn’t see any crime or residual problems from Roar to the Shore. Their clientele is generally regular motorcycle enthusiasts. There are fewer bars in their immediate area, and the outlaw gangs tend to stay at hotels and motels farther down Atlantic Avenue toward the middle of the city, he said.

“If there’s any riffraff, it tends to stay up that way. ... They get the Pagans and all the other people,” Adelizzi said. “The biggest complaint here would be noise, because Rio Grande Avenue is the main drag out. Well, it’s noisy. But other than that, it’s positive.”

Byron said the topic was introduced in a commissioners meeting soon after this year’s event. He was taken aback by the suggestion that they nix Roar to the Shore entirely.

The decision would need to be made after discussions with the police, the promoter, business owners and community members, Byron said.

“Maybe there’s a way that we can fix this, rather that just spontaneously and emotionally just saying, ‘No, this is gonna go away,’” Byron said. “And that’s my feeling. I’m not saying I’m for or against it, what I’m saying is I’m not ready to pull the trigger on it until we’ve looked at this inside-out.”

Beyond crime, another aspect at play is the appearance of increased police presence in a town looking to attract families on vacation, Byron said.

“I don’t like walking down the street and having my 12-year-old look up on a motel and see a sniper up there and trying to explain to them why the SWAT team’s all over the place,” he said. “That’s not what Wildwood’s all about, so that’s not what we’re trying to project.”


Local
No community immune to addiction, Cape May officials say

CAPE MAY — Speakers drove home a by-now-familiar refrain at a Wednesday morning town hall meeting at Convention Hall: Addiction and problems with opioid use can impact any community.

Affluent Cape May is not immune.

No family or community is, organizers emphasized at the Knock Out Opioid Abuse event, presented jointly by the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey and Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

“I am sadly stunned when I think of how many people I know who have suffered in some way because of opioids,” Mayor Clarence F. Lear said.

The event is part of a two-year initiative throughout New Jersey, with plans for community outreach and education for parents and prescribers. Events are planned in all 21 counties in New Jersey in 2019 and 2020, according to organizers.

“I hope what you hear and learn here today will be so shocking that you will agree that this is a fight worth having. We cannot turn away from the reality and the magnitude of this crisis,” he said. “This is no time to be uninformed or naïve or embarrassed about what is going on in our families, our schools and our community.”

According to information released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, Cape May County has seen 11 overdoses this year, including one that proved fatal. In 2018, 47 overdose deaths were reported, and first responders administered an overdose antidote more than 200 times.

The medicine is remarkable, fire Chief Alexander Coulter said, but it is not foolproof. He said his crews are willing to provide information and train individuals in administering naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.

The emergency calls involved in opioid overdoses come from all portions of that coverage area. He said his crews use masks and fentanyl-resistant gloves when responding somewhere there is reason to believe drugs are present.

“We’ve had to take extra steps to protect ourselves,” he said. “It’s something that unfortunately we have to deal with. The police deal with it, we deal with it. It’s something that we’re not going to get away from anytime soon. For providers, it’s a hazard.”

Coulter joined a five-person panel to discuss local issues with opioids, along with strategies for dealing with the epidemic. Other speakers were Cape May County Chamber of Commerce President Vicki Clark, Joe Faldetta, director of prevention at Cape Assist, local businessman Brian Leach and Thomas Piratzky, executive director of the Cape Regional Foundation at Cape Regional Medical Center. Paul Rotella, president of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association, served as moderator.

Leach, who says he is in recovery, described years of substance abuse that began in childhood. He tried unsuccessfully to remain sober several times, he said, while his substance abuse led to crime, prison and trouble keeping jobs. Despite his skill in construction, he said, few were willing to take a chance on him.

“Things were a lot different 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s a lot easier today. People are a lot more understanding today of this disease. People are a lot more willing to help. But there was a time when I couldn’t get any kind of job.”

He started his own business and began working to help others recover.

“I spent a lot of time working with a lot of guys,” he said.

One thing he described as touching to him was working with people struggling with addiction “and watching the light come back on.”

Faldetta said many people want a sweeping solution to opioid abuse, but it does not work like that. He said the entire community must help resolve the underlying issues, which can include addiction counseling but also working to resolve economic and housing issues and building connections to community.

Clark said she has heard questions about why the Chamber of Commerce is involved in the issue. She said it is important to businesses, who need workers, but she also said economic improvement and moving Cape May County from a pattern of stressful, overworked summers and jobless winters will help improve many issues.

Lower Cape May Regional High School teacher Jeff Schwartz said he has students with parents who are addicted to heroin or in jail. He said Cape May County has poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic abuse and more, and a waiting list for treatment centers.

“I don’t see changes. I think it’s getting worse,” he said, asking what more can be done. “I have students that come down and hang out with me just because they feel safe with me.”

There remains an attitude that programs are fine in some areas but “not in my backyard,” Leach said. But he also said he’s seen a change, with county officials, law enforcement agencies and private organizations working together to find answers.

“Everybody has become a part of this fight. That wasn’t happening a couple of years ago,” Leach said.

GALLERY: The Annual Run for the Fallen

Washington
AP
Impeachment standoff
Impeachment standoff: Trump sees ‘hoax,’ Dems a stonewall

WASHINGTON — Unleashing unconcealed fury about Democrats and the media, President Donald Trump railed Wednesday against the investigation into his dealings with Ukraine, hours after House Democratic leaders warned the White House to expect a subpoena for documents. Democrats accused the administration of “flagrant disregard” of previous requests and said that refusal could be considered an impeachable offense.

Separately, the Democrats accused Trump of “an incitement to violence” against a national security whistleblower and advised him and his administration not to intimidate potential witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. The whistleblower exposed a July phone call that Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pressed for an investigation of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his family. Democrats say the pressure on Zelenskiy, on its own, constitutes an abuse of power worthy of impeachment scrutiny.

In appearances in the Oval Office and a joint press conference with the president of Finland, Trump displayed an unusual show of anger as he defended what he has called his “perfect” phone call with Zelenskiy. He suggested, without evidence, that House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff may have committed treason, and, again without evidence, labeled Biden and his son “stone cold crooked.”

At one point, Trump demanded that a reporter pressing him on his dealings with Ukraine move on.

“Ask the president of Finland a question, please,” he said, emphasizing each word, eventually labeling the reporter “corrupt.”

Trump declined to answer yes or no when asked if he would cooperate with the House to produce requested documents on Ukraine.

“Well, I always cooperate,” he said, though his administration has repeatedly stonewalled congressional investigations. “This is a hoax,” he added.

Schiff, accusing Trump of inviting violence against the whistleblower, had said earlier that any effort to interfere with the Democrats’ investigations would be considered evidence of obstruction and could be included in articles of impeachment.

“We’re not fooling around here,” he said.

Trump showed no signs of letting up, tweeting a vulgarity during the House leaders’ news conference and saying “the Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country.” Throwing criticism broadly, he assailed Schiff as a “low-life” and said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco has turned into a “tent city” of homeless.

Trump has tweeted in recent days that he wants to “find out about” the whistleblower and question him or her, though the person’s identity is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act.

The Democrats said they would subpoena the White House on Friday for documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a memo to committee members that the action is necessary because the White House has ignored multiple requests.

Referring to a report on the whistleblower’s complaint, Cummings said that given the “stark and urgent warnings” the inspector general for the intelligence community has delivered to Congress, the panel has “no choice but to issue this subpoena.”

The subpoena will be directed toward acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and request 13 separate batches of documents related to the July call and related matters. The call unfolded against the backdrop of a $250 million foreign aid package for Ukraine that was being readied by Congress but stalled by Trump.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the subpoena is “nothing but more document requests, wasted time and taxpayer dollars that will ultimately show the president did nothing wrong.”

The subpoena announcement came as House and Senate staff prepared to meet with the State Department’s inspector general Wednesday afternoon.

A State Department email invitation said the inspector general, Steve Linick, “would like to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.” The documents were obtained from the State Department’s acting legal adviser, according to the email.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday he was on the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry. He also continued to push back against what he said was Democrats’ “bullying and intimidation.”

Democrats have scheduled closed-door depositions Thursday with former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and next week with ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and three other State Department officials. Pompeo told the committees on Tuesday that the dates they had set were “not feasible,” but at least some of the officials are still coming.

The Democrats said that Pompeo’s resistance amounted to his own intimidation.

“Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress — including State Department employees — is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” said Schiff, Cummings and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel in a Tuesday notice to Pompeo.

They said that if he was on Trump’s call, “Secretary Pompeo is now a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry.” And they warned, “He should immediately cease intimidating department witnesses in order to protect himself and the president.”

Democrats often note that obstruction was one of the impeachment articles against Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency in 1974 in the face of almost certain impeachment.

The committees are seeking voluntary testimony from the current and former officials as the House digs into State Department actions and Trump’s other calls with foreign leaders that have been shielded from scrutiny. They have also subpoenaed Pompeo for documents.

Volker played a direct role in trying to arrange meetings between Rudy Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, and Zelenskiy, the chairmen said. The State Department said that Volker has confirmed that he put a Zelenskiy adviser in contact with Giuliani, at the Ukraine adviser’s request.

The former envoy, who has since resigned his position and so is not necessarily bound by Pompeo’s directions, is eager to appear as scheduled on Thursday, said one person familiar with the situation, but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity. The career professional believes he acted appropriately and wants to tell his side of the situation, the person said.

Yovanovitch, the career diplomat whose abrupt recall from Ukraine earlier this year raised questions, is set to appear next week. The Democrats also want to hear from T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a counselor at the State Department, who also listened in on the Trump-Zelenskiy call, they said.

A whistleblower alleged in an August letter to the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, that the White House tried to “lock down” Trump’s July 25 phone call with the new Ukrainian president because it was worried about the contents being leaked to the public. The complaint was eventually made public after acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire withheld it from Congress for several weeks.

In recent days, it has been disclosed that the administration similarly tried to restrict information about Trump’s calls with other foreign leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, by moving memos onto a highly classified computer system.

Ukraine’s president told reporters Tuesday he has never met or spoken with Giuliani. Zelenskiy insisted that “it is impossible to put pressure on me.” He said he stressed the importance of the military aid repeatedly in discussions with Trump, but “it wasn’t explained to me” why the money didn’t come through until September.

In Russia, Putin said scrutiny over the phone call showed that Trump’s adversaries are using “every excuse” to attack him.

———

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Rome, Angela Charlton in Kyiv, Ukraine; and Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin, Alan Fram and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.


Ron Sachs/CNP/  

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) makes remarks at the Center for American Progress’ 2018 Ideas Conference on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. (Ron Sachs/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)