ATLANTIC CITY — The city Municipal Utilities Authority wants to recoup thousands of dollars for a water bill from a local beach bar after the mayor ordered firefighters to fill the pool, officials said.
A temporary swimming pool at the Chelsea Beach Bar was filled July 21 from an unmetered hydrant on the Boardwalk. Atlantic City MUA Executive Director Bruce Ward said when he contacted fire Chief Scott Evans to ask why the department had filled the pool without notifying the water company, he was told the Fire Department was acting on an order that came directly from Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr.
Gilliam did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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Two days later, before ACMUA staff could estimate the amount of city water used by measuring dimensions, the pool was gone.
Ward said the water company wants the bill paid and is considering assessing a $2,000 penalty for unauthorized opening of a hydrant. The utility is also seeking to recoup an unpaid connection fee that was discovered for Chelsea Beach Bar.
Steve Tabeek, manager of Chelsea Beach Bar, denied the business received any special treatment.
Domenico Gaggiano, owner of Chelsea Beach Bar and Celebrity Corner Beach Bar and Grill, said the bill would be paid.
“What people must understand is that water is not free,” Ward said. “The people who pay their water bills pay for the treatment costs, the energy costs, the distribution costs, the staff costs of maintaining a water system. And so, any of this unmetered water, non-revenue water, is a cost to the individuals who pay their bills. It’s my responsibility to capture any of the water that is non-metered and in a matter than runs afoul of our regulations.”
Ward said he has been assured by the city solicitor, business administrator and state fiscal monitor that they would investigate the matter and report back to him with the dimensions of Chelsea Beach Bar’s temporary pool so the bar can be accurately billed.
John Devlin, an authority board member, said the water bill could “possibly be five figures or more.” He said the matter would be at the “top of the agenda” for discussion at the next public meeting in August and suggested legal action might be appropriate if the bill is not resolved.
“We can’t just have people, especially public officials, acting on their own and using Atlantic City resources without paying for them,” Devlin said. “We’re getting that money, one way or another.”
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The ACMUA provides same-day or scheduled service to any customer who applies for a meter that records the amount of water used for billing purposes. Chelsea Beach Bar never filed an application for a meter or services, according to ACMUA officials.
A picture of Gilliam, Tabeek and another individual was posted on the Chelsea Beach Bar’s Facebook page July 21.
The Press of Atlantic City filed an Open Public Records Act request July 23 for official communications between Gilliam or his staff and Evans or other Fire Department supervisors. The city has not provided the information and has asked for an extension.
Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which has direct oversight of the city following the 2016 takeover, said the bar owner would be “charged the standard rate for use of Fire Department equipment and water usage.”
Gilliam, who took office in 2018, has been involved in several high-profile incidents, including a fight outside a casino nightclub in November and a raid on his home by federal authorities in December. No charges have been filed against Gilliam as a result of the federal investigation, and the nightclub fight complaints of simple assault and harassment were dismissed.