Judge Awards Damages to Atlantic County in PILOT Litigation

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New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Blee has issued a decision in favor of Atlantic County in its litigation with the state of New Jersey.

The county has been awarded damages following the court’s previous ruling that the state had violated the terms of the 2018 consent order of settlement with regard to the Casino Property Tax Stabilization Act commonly referred to as the casino PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of taxes) bill.

Blee’s order issued July 29 requires the state to pay Atlantic County $2,362,500 within five days for the shortfall in payments made to the county thus far in 2022. Blee also granted an increase in payments to the county that are due on Aug. 15 and November 15.

As a result, the county would receive more than $22 million in PILOT payments this year.

Blee noted in his July 29 decision that “the state made a calculated decision” to willfully violate multiple court orders when it issued deficient payment to the county.

Additionally, Blee’s order requires the state to make quarterly payments through 2026 under the terms of the consent order, which includes internet and sports betting revenues. Lastly, the county is also to receive attorney fees and other costs that will be determined in further proceedings.

“This is a big win for the taxpayers of Atlantic County,” County Executive Dennis Levinson said in a news release. “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 noted. “The governor quickly signed the bill four days before Christmas 2021 during a lame duck legislative session.”

He continued, “To add further insult to injury, after our suit was filed, the state refused to mediate despite being strongly recommended to do so by the courts. The state’s attorneys continued to file motions to delay the court proceedings that began last December. 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.”

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

He also took exception that the state’s attorneys stated in open court that this case was not about the unfairness of the PILOT amendment, but rather 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.

“That’s hogwash,” remarked Levinson. “This was never personal; it was about standing up for the people I represent. With this ruling, the courts have substantiated my position.”

He continued, “All the state had to do was agree to sit down with us and this could have all been avoided. 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.”