Pixabay/Real estate taxes.

The State of New Jersey has declined to engage in mediation to resolve its dispute with Atlantic County regarding the changes made to the funding formula calculations for casino payments-in-lieu-of-taxes as a result of legislation that was recently signed into law by the governor four days before Christmas in a lame duck legislative session.

According to Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, both parties were strongly encouraged by Superior Court Joseph L. Marczyk to go to mediation following the county’s filing of an Order to Show Cause on Dec. 21, 2021.

“I believe his exact words were that it would be ‘prudent’ to mediate, which the county is willing to do,” Levinson said in a release.

Levinson said the county seeks to overturn the legislation that amends the Casino Property Tax Stabilization Act, commonly known as the casino PILOT bill, because it violates a Consent Order of Settlement to which both parties agreed to in open court in June 2018. The settlement guarantees the county 13.5% of casino tax payments through 2024 and 12% for the last two years of the PILOT.

The new law significantly amends the original PILOT and will result in a loss of as much as $30 million to county taxpayers, which the county argues is a violation of the 2018 settlement.

But what is most troublesome to Levinson and county officials is the state’s “repeated refusal to communicate with the county,” he said.

“At no time throughout this process, including the writing of the bill, its movement through the state Legislature and its signing by the governor, has anyone from the state, the casinos or Atlantic City picked up the phone to discuss this issue with me or anyone affiliated with county government and we are a primary stakeholder in this issue,” Levinson said. “The governor never responded to letters from me or our counsel. No one invited us to any of the meetings that were conducted to help push this through.

“And perhaps most telling is the fact that our two former Atlantic County Assemblymen, Vince Mazzeo, the sponsor of the original PILOT, and John Armato, the sponsor of the amended PILOT, both voted against the new law because it would cost the county taxpayers more money,” Levinson said. “Armato actually had his name removed as sponsor of the bill, which may be a first in state history.”

He called the state’s unwillingness to seek a resolution before a neutral mediator “arrogant and incomprehensible.”

“We should be working to find a fair and equitable solution that will keep our taxpayers whole. That is what we previously negotiated to do. I question why this new legislation was needed and why it was rushed through without any discussion,” he said. “And I would ask the public to consider why the state does not see fit to mediate and settle this dispute without costing our taxpayers even more time and money to return to court.”

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.