Earlier this year, as lawyers for the state of New Jersey were pushing Atlantic City’s police and firefighters toward pay and job cuts, a state authority in the city was quietly handing out thousands of dollars in back pay and salaries to members of its own board.
Good news: Atlantic City attracted more visitors last year! Bad news: They mostly weren’t going to Boardwalk Hall or the Atlantic City Convention Center. Worse news: They mostly went to casinos in the Marina District! Where they’re isolated from the city! Atlantic City, which is struggling to pay its bills after five casinos closed since 2014, was taken over by the state at the end of last year.
The Casino Association of New Jersey last year hired Philip Norcross, brother of Democrat power-broker George, to lobby the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) on the topic of “economic development,” according to lobbying records. In recent years, Atlantic City casinos have received millions of dollars from CRDA for investments in their own properties, but last year, as part of the city takeover legislation, CRDA saw that chunk of its budget diverted to pay off city debt. A spokeswoman for The Casino Association of New Jersey, which includes all seven of Atlantic City’s remaining gaming properties, declined to give any details on its lobbying activity. A spokeswoman for CRDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Norcross did not return messages left on Friday. The lobbying records show that Norcross’ Optimus Partners also lobbied the legislature on behalf of the Casino Association on the topic of the takeover legislation.
The engineering company responsible for the design of the new Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park has requested more money for the job, raising the total contract cost by 9 percent. The additional costs are connected with work that was not included in the original scope of the project, according to a letter sent by AECOM, the international engineering company carrying out the work, to the Atlantic County Improvement Authority (ACIA). The ACIA approved the request last month. The new work, worth $28,031, takes the total cost of the job up to $766,421.00. A previous change order, approved by the ACIA in August, gave AECOM an additional $41,234.00.
In May last year Atlantic City’s water authority hired advisory firm Acacia Financial Group to craft a concession agreement that would help the authority both retain its independence and stave off a state takeover of the city. Acacia Financial helped draft two 100-page-plus documents chock-full of inside information and financial details but just a few months later it abruptly ended its $20,000 contract with the water authority because it had accepted another contract – with the New Jersey department that held state-takeover powers. New Jersey, now tasked with plucking Atlantic City from its financial death spiral, is sitting on a detailed plan that would help potential buyers put a price on one of the casino resort’s few remaining assets: its water authority. What’s more, the plan calculates the future water-rate rises that might be possible for the authority. “Their analysis sets forth what a combined rate structure could be, given a concession model,” said Bruce Ward, executive director of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority said in an interview last month.
The non-profit development company behind the $206 million project to build Stockton University an Atlantic City campus was little more than a shell company in 2015, with no staff and a tiny revenue eked out from parking fees, according to its latest tax filing. The Atlantic City Development Corp, founded in February 2015 by New Brunswick Development Corp’s President Chris Paladino and three colleagues from the Governor’s Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment, lost money in its first year and its only revenue came from charging the Knife & Fork restaurant $7,500 for the lease of a parking lot. Route 40 requested the filing from Paladino’s office last year. The ACDevCo did, however, hold land worth $11.7 million, including a 9.5-acre package it acquired in 2015 for the Stockton project. “One of the lots had been leased to the owner of the Knife and Fork for restaurant parking for a number of years,” Paladino explained in an email.
What’s Keeping the South Inlet Empty? In mid-August of last summer a real estate investor from Florida named Bruce Pender bought a small plot of land in the South Inlet neighborhood of Atlantic City. He paid $25,000 to acquire 206 S. Vermont Avenue, tax records show. The old owner, Seaview Property Development of Turnersville, had been sitting on the land since 2005. In real estate terms, this was one of the rarest commodities going: beachfront land about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia—two and a half hours (give or take) from New York City.
Atlantic County will next year slash its spending on individual and group counseling for people in outpatient drug and alcohol detox programs but increase its spending on halfway houses, according to a new request for proposals. The county, which spends more than half a million dollars on alcohol and drug abuse treatment each year, has money set aside from the New Jersey Division of Addiction Services and the Atlantic County Division of Public Health. The total funding for drug and alcohol abuse services will be $560,756 in 2017, up slightly from $547,984 this year. The bulk of that money will be spent on providing short-term residential and inpatient detoxification services, according to the RFP. Spending on halfway house services will rise to $40,000 in 2017 from $30,000 this year, while spending on outpatient counseling will slip to $12,000 from $25,500 this year.
The NJEA spent big to end questions over school vouchers for private education in Atlantic City. But the movement seems to be spreading in South Jersey. New Jersey’s teachers’ union spent more than $115,000 this election period to oppose a public question, according to filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). The money was funneled through a campaign finance cash-pile set up just weeks before the election and dubbed the NJEA November School Elections Committee, the filings show. About half of that money was used to fight a non-binding question posed on Atlantic City’s ballot that would have introduced school vouchers of $10,000 for private education.
At some point today, an artist armed with a chainsaw will hack into the trunk of a dead oak tree in a Pine Barrens park. In life, the oak tree was witness to more than a century of history in the village of Richland. In death, it will be a monument to that history. At least, that’s the vision of Buena Vista Mayor Chuck Chiarello. No one knows precisely what killed the oak tree in Richland’s Saw Mill Park.