By Lauren Wanko
Atlantic County refunded $16.7 million back to Atlantic City last year, most of which were casino tax refunds backlogged from 2007.
“The casinos file a tax appeal every year, but unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to hear them all so when they finally make a settlement, it’s usually for five or more years and that adds up,” explained Atlantic County Tax Administrator Margaret Schott.
Buena Vista Mayor Chuck Chiarello says it is adding up in just about every municipality in Atlantic County. And residents are literally paying the price.
“We’re a small town so last year it had about a quarter of a million dollar impact on Buena Vista where you have to redistribute those monies over the entire tax base in your community,” Chiarello said.
Atlantic County raised more than $155 million in taxes last year. But Schott says Atlantic County had to refund $18 million in tax appeals — the largest refund the county’s ever made.
“So we actually had to raise more than $155 million. We had to raise $173 million to offset the amount of taxes we had to refund,” Schott said.
Mayor Chiarello insists the number of tax appeals and refunds is a statewide problem. Still he says the county needs to look at other industries besides the casinos to help sustain a year-round economy. Many residents of rural Buena Vista depend on work in Atlantic City’s declining casino industry.
We reached out to several casinos — Trump Taj Mahal, Borgata, Caesars Entertainment, and the Casino Association of New Jersey declined comment.
“It’s a double hit in some families. I’m making less money and I’m paying more in taxes,” Chiarello said.
And while Atlantic County municipalities like Buena Vista are paying a larger share of the county tax burden, last year Atlantic City paid a 7 percent reduction in their share of county taxes.
“That’s due to the revaluations that was done at the height of the market. Then values started to drop and casinos started filing appeals. That’s one side of it and also residential people started filing appeals because they realized the values of condos and homes were going down,” said Schott.
Schott says Atlantic City is in the process of revaluations in the hopes of bringing property values in line, which would ultimately result in less tax appeals and refunds. County and local officials are also looking into other ways to determine the value of casino properties.