Budget address in Northfield

From left, Freeholder Frank Formica, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, and Freeholder Chairwoman Amy Gatto, at Levinson's budget address in January.

Atlantic County’s 2019 general purpose tax rate will fall by 1.9 cents, almost double the decrease announced earlier this month, according to County Executive Dennis Levinson.

The county will get about $350,000 more from the Atlantic City Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) than it got last year, he said, because of the built-in 2 percent escalator that kicks in if PILOT payments don’t increase based on casino finances.

Levinson said it was unclear if the county would share in the 2 percent increase until a recent meeting between the county and state, where the county made its case for why it deserved a portion of the 2 percent increase in casino PILOT payments.

“The PILOT bill does not stipulate any share of this increase for the county, so once again we had to fight for what rightfully belongs to our taxpayers,” Levinson said.

The county had to sue the state to receive the 13.5 percent of PILOT funding that was promised, and was successful in a settlement in 2018.

“In this recent instance, the county made its case and the state agreed. Thankfully, they did so without any costly litigation. We are making progress,” said Levinson.

The county’s share of the $130 million PILOT payment will increase from $17.55 million to $17.9 million, he said.

Levinson had announced a 1-cent reduction as part of his budget message to the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders earlier this month.

“The budget will be formally introduced on Jan. 29 with no tax increase and a 1.9-cent decline in the county general purpose tax,” he said Monday.

The $4.8 million Taj Mahal/Hard Rock settlement that occurred after the PILOT passed will not affect this year’s budget, he said.

“We’ll cross that bridge later,” said Levinson, who has said county taxpayers should not have to shoulder any of the payments, which the state has said will be spread over four years in budget years 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

The state has estimated the county is responsible for returning 8 percent, or about $384,000, to Hard Rock.

But Levinson has said county taxpayers should not have to pay another cent in casino-related tax appeal settlements, since the state Department of Community Affairs announced in August 2017 that all such appeals were settled.

DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said the news release was accurate, because the Taj Mahal property was deed restricted as a non-casino property in 2017 so was not part of the PILOT. It had closed as a casino in 2016.

Ryan said the property was assessed at $225 million at the time of the 2017 tax appeal.

“In the face of Hard Rock’s purchase of the real estate for $45 million, the property’s assessment was adjusted to $80 million by the settlement for the 2017 tax year,” said Ryan. “Due to the increased value of the property as a result of the significant improvements made, the property’s assessment was back up to $225 million for the 2018 tax year and was not reduced by any tax appeal.”

Contact: 609-272-7219 mpost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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