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Judge hands Atlantic County multimillion-dollar PILOT win over state

A judge gave Atlantic County a multimillion-dollar win in its ongoing fight over the Casino Property Tax Stabilization Act.

But the state is saying, not so fast — literally.

The state has just five days to pay Atlantic County the $2,362,500 it owes as part of the Casino PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, Superior Court Judge Michael Blee ordered Friday.

The state also owes increased payments due Aug. 15 and Nov. 15, according to the order.

“The order’s requirement that the State make a multimillion-dollar payment in such a short timeframe is burdensome,” the state’s lawyers wrote in a motion to stay the decision filed Monday.

The state actually had much more time to pay the missing money, according to the judge’s order.

A Feb. 25 order by Judge Joseph Marczyk “gave notice to (the state) that they would be held liable, not only for damages resulting from the breach, but also for sanctions,” Blee wrote in his opinion. “In spite of this, when the May 14, 2022 payment came due, Defendants chose to make a second deficient payment to the County.”

The state’s “willful violation of the Court’s Order had a significant negative impact on County services,” Blee continued.

Those cuts included meal delivery and nutrition sites for senior citizens and disabled residents, an in-home flu and COVID-19 vaccination program and a county opioid response program, Blee wrote, citing Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson.

“Defendants had no grounds for this willful violation of a Court Order,” Blee wrote, noting that the state did not seek a stay at that time.

This time the state has, also alleging that “the court’s quarterly payment calculation” is overstated by more than $4.4 million, for an overassessment of nearly $8.9 million for the year.

As it stands, the order would give the county more than $22 million in PILOT payments this year, according to Levinson’s office.

“This is a big win for the taxpayers of Atlantic County,” Levinson said. “Our fight was to protect their best interests and hold the state accountable for its court-ordered agreement.”

“We advised the governor the amended PILOT legislation would breach the terms of the Consent Order, but our repeated attempts to communicate were ignored,” Levinson added. “The governor quickly signed the bill four days before Christmas 2021 during a lame-duck legislative session.”

Levinson also claimed the state refused to mediate, even though it was “strongly recommended” by the courts.

“It’s now August and the county has a favorable ruling with an award of damages. How does the state respond? By filing yet more motions to delay payment of those damages,” he said of the state’s most recent move.

“It’s unconscionable that the state continues to drag this out as long as possible and squander taxpayer money,” Levinson said. “The longer this continues, the more money ends up in the pockets of the attorneys. Even when we win, the taxpayers lose.”

Levinson also took exception that the state’s attorneys alleged in court that this was really about Levinson’s “antagonistic attitude against the State of New Jersey and Atlantic City,” and was based upon an emotional, political argument of Levinson rather than a legal basis.

“This was never personal,” he said. “It was about standing up for the people I represent. With this ruling, the courts have substantiated my position.

“All the State had to do was agree to sit down with us and this could have all been avoided,” he added. “But to this day, they have refused to speak to us. The citizens of Atlantic County deserve better. I took an oath to represent them and that is what I will continue to do.”

“The state disagrees with the trial court’s decision and filed a motion for leave to appeal the decision,” Governor’s Office spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro told BreakingAC.

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