There are plenty of questions regarding the PILOT bill that was passed by the Legislature during the lame duck session and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy with little public discussion.
The bill, which will give tax relief to Atlantic City’s casinos by removing sports and internet gaming revenues from the calculation of their payments in lieu of taxes, can be viewed in two ways:
- It will give necessary tax relief to casinos, protecting thousands of jobs during a time when the economic health of the industry still is impacted by the pandemic;
- It will cost the city approximately $6 million in lost tax revenue — and has some, including Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, threatening litigation.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small expressed his support for the bill with questions of his own.
“You have to ask yourself a question: Is the great city of Atlantic City better off today than it was five years ago?” he asked, and then answered. “That answer is, ‘Yes.’
“Will the great city of Atlantic City be better off five years from now than today because of the PILOT? The answer is also, ‘Yes.’
“As mayor of the great city of Atlantic City, we’ve assessed everything. We’ve assessed the numbers. We looked at the various revenue streams, and we’re satisfied. We’re happy that the bill has moved forward.”
Small, who took over as mayor in October 2019, following the resignation of Frank Gilliam, was reelected as mayor in November. He recently talked with ROI-NJ about all things Atlantic City. Here is a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.
ROI-NJ: Let’s continue with the PILOT bill. Can you expand on its impact on the city?
Marty Small: The city gets a pot of money directly from the casinos. The amount of money is more than if there was no PILOT. The PILOT program comprises three revenue streams from the casino industry. The proposed amendments will continue to ensure the stability of Atlantic City for years to come through revenue streams. And then there’s other revenue that can be used for clean and safe infrastructure, and the city’s debt service that will be paid as well.
What is your favorite New Jersey food or meal?
I have two. One is my famous jerk spaghetti, which I can’t tell you much about, because you’ll steal the recipe. Let’s just say the meat is ground turkey and marinated in my famous jerk concoction.
And No. 2 is the meal that I have on the menu at Gino’s restaurant in Atlantic City, called the Marty Small Special — chopped salmon, with spinach, broccoli, fried onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh garlic, all seasoned with Cajun.
Every restaurant here in the great city of Atlantic City has great food. And it is something that isn’t marketed much. Every one of them has great food, and it’s hard to pick a favorite.
If you were named the New Jersey business czar for the day, what one rule or idea would you instill to help change the business climate in the state?
They say the charity starts at home. One of the things I would try to create is a unique formula to wipe out property taxes for the residents of Atlantic City. I would also increase taxes in other portions of the state because, far too long, as they say, Atlantic City has been the Golden Goose. Now it’s time for the Golden Goose to get additional revenue streams.
Also, my administration is very big on small businesses and, considering the way the world has changed from the pandemic, we would encourage more entrepreneurship.
ROI: That leads into questions about the city’s financial stability. How do you see it?
MS: We are on strong fiscal ground. We’ve got a positive outlook again from Moody’s. This is the third straight year — two years in a row during the pandemic — and they have pointed to improved governance and city management as a reason that we are in the position that we’re in. That’s because we raised the expectation levels of all our department heads. And we’re just getting started. I look forward to another tax decrease in 2022 for the good people of Atlantic City. And I’m happy where we are.
ROI: During your recent State of the City address, you touted a number of accomplishments: reducing property taxes and the city budget during COVID, implementing projects to improve roads and bridges in the city, demolishing Trump Plaza and bringing a new ShopRite to the city — even though it is heavily subsidized. Talk about all of this.
MS: The progress continues. I think we’re just getting started. If not for the pandemic, a lot of other things would have been happening. But, we’re in the pandemic and we’re governing tremendously in the pandemic, all things considered, and I just look forward to 2022. I know, right after the new year, there will be another major announcement for the city, and I just can’t wait for the continued progress.
ROI: You teased this announcement during your address. (Some are speculating it is an announcement on housing.) Can you offer any more hints as to what’s going to happen?
MS: All I’m going to say now is that it is game-changing.
ROI: Will it involve the area where the now-demolished Trump Plaza was?
MS: I can give you a hint on that: The answer is, ‘No.’
ROI: So, that means something else is in the works over there. That’s prime oceanfront real estate. Would do you envision for there?
MS: That is the best property in Atlantic City. I didn’t realize how big it was until it came down. As a kid, it was always Trump Plaza, and was always connected to Boardwalk Hall. It is the best location, smack dead in the middle of the city, and it’s a tremendous development opportunity for someone. Now that we have got the building down, this administration will do all it can to assist Carl Icahn in developing that property.
ROI: Let’s turn back to housing. That has been a major issue in the city for decades. Do you see anything regarding homeownership coming for the new year? Any relief plans or anything like that to help people purchase their own homes?
MS: Yes, we have a program that assists homeowners with down payments. This year, I am going to work with (Casino Reinvestment Development Authority) to reinstitute a program that they had for police and fire in the ’90s, but we want to expand it. Not only for police and fire. We have AtlantiCare professionals, Stockton University professionals, we have people in the arts. We want schoolteachers and administrators — everyone — to be able to take advantage of the program, and we want to let them know that Atlantic City is not only a great place to earn a paycheck, but it’s an even better place to live. We have to change the culture and the dynamic and bring the middle class back to the great city of Atlantic City and continue to add to our ratable base. That’s how we are going to sustain this fiscal path that we are on.
ROI: Let’s turn back to you. In November, you were elected to a full term. What does that mean to you?
MS: Obviously, it shows that the residents of Atlantic City believe in the direction that we’re going. You don’t win seven elections in two years if the people don’t believe in you — some people don’t run seven elections in their political career.
I am just humbled by the support of the residents and I’m just more than excited for what 2022 and beyond holds for the great city of Atlantic City.