TRENTON – The Senate today approved a bill, S-1339, sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, to require prior approval by the State Local Finance Board of large municipal property sales or leases of valuable tracts like Bader Field in Atlantic City.
“The long-term interests of taxpayers would be protected under this proposal,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “If a municipal plan that would generate revenues from a large sale is suspect, this bill would enable the Local Finance Board to require the funds be deposited in a dedicated trust for the benefit of taxpayers.”
The bill passed 38-0 and was forwarded to the Assembly.
“Discussions by public officials about the sale of Bader Field have led to corruption convictions and growing public perceptions of possible conflicts,” Senator Whelan said. “With all due respect, the taxpayers of Atlantic City deserve some guaranteed return on a sale which experts say could generate up to a billion dollars.”
Senator Whelan, the former mayor of Atlantic City, said, under his bill, a proposed property sale, lease or redevelopment of at least $50 million which exceeds a municipality’s total annual budget for the previous year would need prior sanction by the State Local Finance Board.
The Whelan bill would affect all municipalities, but was crafted after ongoing discussions involving the sale of the closed municipal airport, located on 140 acres of prime bayfront property, aroused considerable controversy.
The Atlantic City government is currently mulling an offer from Penn National Gaming to purchase Bader Field for $800 million and to provide a $50 million upfront payment to the city government. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, meanwhile, is promoting a competitive bidding process.
Under the bill, a municipality would have to submit its plan for a property sale to the Local Finance Board at least 30 days before closing on a proposed deal. The municipal plan would have to state how funds generated by the sale would be used.
If the Local Finance Board decides the revenue should be put in a trust, it would be controlled by a three-member oversight board made up of the mayor, the chief financial officer of the municipality and a member of the local governing body.
By being retroactive to March 1 of this year, the Whelan bill would apply to any proposal which has been considered, including the one for Bader Field from Penn National Gaming, the Senator said.
“This bill will guarantee , pure and simple, that the interests of taxpayers are protected,” Senator Whelan said.