Location: Atlantic City – Westside Complex Auditorium
Atlantic City residents filled the Westside Complex auditorium to offer input to Susan Ney Thompson, interim director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), as they prepare to take over many functions of Atlantic City's municipal government.
Frank Formica (2nd district freeholder, Atlantic County) stood and stated, as resident and developer, "It is my observation the planning and zoning functions of Atlantic City work well. My family has been here 100 years, and now, folks from out of town will have input on how my business should expand, and how my property should be improved?”
Frank has led investment and interest in the Ducktown section of town, now the planned arts district.
This remark was repeated by Atlantic City planning board member Ron Jordan. He spoke to the issue of city residents regularly being squashed by casinos, developers, and special interest groups.
“There is no protection without us,” Jordan said.
I stood too, asking with self interest, “What assurances do my partners and I have that eminent domain won’t be used against us locals in favor of bigger, better out-of-town interests, as has historically been done?”
Residents stood to ask about property tax relief. An initial belief when the casino referendum was approved by voters included that property taxes would disappear. “I don’t care about anything but property taxes," said one resident. "Many of us are retired and on fixed incomes. We’re being taxed out of our homes paying for casino services.”
Dennis Burroughs moderates the Absecon Island Collective group on facebook, diving head on into controversial issues. He pointed out the warehousing of land under the CRDA, which doesn’t pay taxes nor releases to individuals for development, saving it for large out-of-town interests, thus further straining the city.
Finally, another common theme is jobs.
Robert Molley, like many of our youth, returned to Atlantic City a few years ago from jail. His mission now is to help others getting out of jail become legitimate.
“We have bypassed residents in favor of employing out of town folks for even the simplest of jobs," said Molley. "We aren’t even holding out hope. It is one of the reasons our youth turn to the only industry available to them. Drugs! We have a 35 percent dropout rate among minority youth and consequently, a huge unemployment rate, and no one is paying attention. It’s all about casino income and tax money being down.”
Molley has just returned from a speaking tour in schools and prisons in South Carolina. His next speaking engagement is on Rutger’s Camden campus, April 8.
“It’s funny," he adds. "They listen to me out of town, but won’t listen to my knowledge about this town.”
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford reminded the audience this 800-pound gorilla was dropped on the CRDA and Thompson’s lap, and suggested the residents would like to see her stay. She understands the pulse of Atlantic City. I hear that over and over again, and concur. Of course, the popular theory is someone from North Jersey will be given this political plumb. Shame on our elected officials. It’s time we take politics out of progress in Atlantic City.
Langford also spoke to the suggested sale of Atlantic City International Airport, reminding the crowd, the airport was sold by the city for $11million with the inference the state would develop it to our betterment. Now, the state is selling it, and splitting profits among eight counties. His implication: The city is getting the short end, and the stick will get even shorter when the state takes over town, too.
It was further suggested that since Atlantic City has to provide so many visitor services brought on by the industry, we institute a $2 room tax and a wage tax on those working in our city.
S-11 author, Sen. James Whelan, was in the room. He indicated the importance of taking a global view, with Atlantic City at the center. I enjoyed watching former students stop him to say hello.
Other politicos in the room I spotted included: Former mayor Scott Evans, Assemblyman John Amodeo, County Executive Dennis Levinson, and his administrative aide, Howard Kyle, Freeholder Charles Garrett, Councilmen Speedy Marsh, Steven Moore, Frank Gilliam, Sporty Randolph and Mo Delgado. Libby Willis was also present. As president of the First Ward Civic Association, she is the next to host the CRDA Tuesday, April 5, 6:30pm, at the Uptown Complex.
What I notice as common theme after my third CRDA meeting: This time, the residents don’t seem prepared to lay down and take it on the chin for the good of the casinos. The common cry seems to be: “What about us?”
Update: 04.01.11 I have met with Langford and Molley. They have read these words attributed to them, and, assure me, it’s about the people.
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