HAMMONTON — The governing bodies of Hammonton and Folsom voted at a joint meeting Thursday night to ask Atlantic County freeholders to audit AC Devco before backing bonds for its $203 million Atlantic City Gateway Project.

They are also asking the Local Finance Board to examine AC Devco’s finances.

The Gateway, slated for the Chelsea section, would include a Stockton University Atlantic City campus and a new headquarters for South Jersey Gas.

The western Atlantic County officials hope to stop the project that would move 167 highly paid jobs from Folsom to Atlantic City.

An audience of about 60 Hammonton, Folsom and Buena Vista Township residents broke into applause several times when officials said they would do everything they could to stop the move of South Jersey Gas from its current headquarters in Folsom.

South Jersey Gas has been granted about $12 million in state tax credits from the Grow NJ program to help finance construction and facilitate the move from Folsom to the resort.

Hammonton and Folsom officials have called the plan a poaching of jobs from one end of the county to the other.

Buena Vista Mayor Chuck Chiarello and Deputy Mayor Teresa Kelly were there to listen and show solidarity, but it was not an official meeting for them, Chiarello said.

There was a lot of anger about the company’s attitude at a meeting earlier in the week that included Hammonton Mayor Steve DiDonato, Folsom Mayor Louis “Skip” DeStefano, Freeholder Director Frank Formica and western Atlantic County Freeholder Jim Bertino, Atlantic County Chief of Staff Howard Kyle and South Jersey Gas executives Jeffrey DuBois and Stephen Clark.

“We were making a point about (Hammonton and Folsom) being in the hub of South Jersey when he came out of left field,” DiDonato said of DuBois. “He said, ‘We have to attract talent. We’re in the middle of nowhere here.’ I was taken aback. It was insulting.”

DiDonato said the talent pool in a 30-mile radius from Hammonton is much larger than the same radius from Atlantic City, in part because half of the circle goes out into the Atlantic Ocean in the resort. In contrast, Hammonton/Folsom can draw from Philadephia, Cherry Hill and other more populated areas, he said.

DeStefano said county officials gave the mayors little support in the meeting.

“I don’t think Atlantic City has a better work pool than we do,” said Linda Maxwell, of Folsom. “I don’t see hookers on the streets of Hammonton, Folsom and Buena Vista.”

Others said excellent schools, a safe and walkable downtown in Hammonton with lots of restaurants and a vibrant arts community are also attractions Atlantic City does not share.

Hammonton resident Sandy Templeton said tax credits should not be used to move jobs within the county.

“I'm all for Atlantic City revitalization, but not at the expense of other towns in the same county,” she said.

The freeholders were due to vote on backing bonds for the Gateway project at their March 8 meeting, but that meeting has been cancelled. The earliest they can now vote is 4 p.m. March 15 at the Stillwater building in Northfield.

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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