Atlantic City belt-tightening plan aims to avoid takeover

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Atlantic City plans to sell land, lay off 100 more workers, pay down most of its $500 million debt and slash other expenses during the next five years to fight off a threatened state takeover of its assets and decision-making power.

Mayor Don Guardian unveiled the city’s long-awaited fiscal turnaround plan Monday evening, just days before New Jersey lawmakers and Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration are to consider whether the struggling seaside gambling resort can no longer be trusted to manage its own affairs.

The city will use $110 million from the sale of the historic Bader Field former airport site and $105 million in bonds it will issue to pay off much of its massive debt, part of which was caused by successful tax appeals from casinos whose property has lost tens of millions of dollars as the city’s gambling market continues to shrink.

The plan would balance budgets for the next five years without raising municipal taxes and create a small surplus.

“There is no doubt that this is the way forward for Atlantic City’s future,” said Guardian, the Republican mayor of the heavily Democratic city. “Not only did we find a way not to raise taxes on the residents of Atlantic City, but we also outline how we will steadily decrease our dependence on state aid over the coming years.”

State officials are expected to decide soon whether the plan is acceptable or whether to take over most of the city’s decision-making power and control of its most valuable assets, including Bader Field and its coveted water utility. A state Assembly committee has a hearing on the plan scheduled for Wednesday, although the state Department of Community Affair will have the final say.

In the years when its casino industry continued growing, so too did Atlantic City’s municipal budget. But when the industry began a decline in 2007 that continues unabated due to competition from casinos in neighboring states, the Great Recession and a devastating Superstorm Sandy, not enough money was rolling into city coffers to pay for its spending.

Even though the state passed legislation this year giving the city some relief in paying down its $500 million debt, the city still was responsible for paying $215 million of it.

Under the plan, that would be addressed by selling Bader Field, the first aviation facility in the world to be called an “airport,” to the city’s Municipal Utilities Authority, and issuing $105 million in bonds paid off with funds resulting from cuts in city spending.

The city also will consider privatizing numerous functions, reduce non-personnel and professional services spending by 10 percent, eliminate across-the-board raises, switch workers to a cheaper medical insurance plan and end the ability of most retiring workers to cash in unused sick and vacation time.

Atlantic City already has cut 358 full-time jobs and 100 part-time jobs since 2013; the plan would cut 100 additional full-time jobs. It also has reduced its municipal vehicle fleet from 598 to 477.

The city also has installed new parking meters and raised many fees and fines.


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