The training wheels aren’t coming off.
In a report published last week, Gov. Phil Murphy’s special counsel, Jim Johnson, recommended that the state continue to oversee Atlantic City’s operations through 2021.
Despite the continued oversight, Mayor Frank Gilliam of Atlantic City remains optimistic:
“The citizens of Atlantic City deserve to have their local elected officials control their destiny,” said Gilliam. “I am very optimistic that this is a huge step in the right direction for Atlantic City and its future.”
Oversight continues for Atlantic City
The report, titled, “Atlantic City: Building a Foundation for a Shared Prosperity,” is the result of “five months of fact-finding, consultation and analysis.”
Johnson’s report begins with an overview section in which there’s some explanation as to why it’s important for the state-led coalition to continue to oversee Atlantic City’s daily operations:
“Atlantic City must chart a new course, which involves strengthening the fundamentals of local government, investing in a broader economy with jobs with high earning potential and addressing longstanding social challenges. … The strategy must seek to build people, particularly the youth, not just places.”
The report, which totals 64 pages, reviews countless data points and provides recommendations across many different areas including:
- State and local councils
- Civic associations and local NGO’s
- Transparency and accountability
Here are the report’s conclusions:
“Atlantic City is in the midst of a promising renewal and has many assets that can be brought to bear to ensure that progress endures. Success will depend on collaboration among stakeholders who should have a willingness to understand and confront some of the most chronic problems. That understanding will help create a vision of shared opportunity. The tasks outlined in this Report offer important steps on this common journey.”
Key tasks to complete for Atlantic City
The tasks mentioned above include a list of key recommendations that AC officials would need to execute in order to spur changes in the state takeover.
Those key recommendations include:
- Investing in its own people. The city needs to train employees properly and provide them with technology.
- Supporting the key drivers in its economy, specifically the casinos.
- Cleaning up the city. AC must provide a more inviting place for people to live in and want to move to.
- Building on the strengths ingrained in the city’s fabric including leveraging civic and arts organizations. This will help facilitate a stronger sense of community.
- Building relationships with other institutions, including the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the Department of Community Affairs, and the Economic Development Authority.
- Providing access to health, housing, and job opportunities for poor residents.
The review team behind Johnson’s report also proposed creating a state coordinating council to help implement the tasks and hold people accountable for results.
AC state takeover in a nutshell
Atlantic City was in the throes of a dismal economic morass in 2016.
The city’s bond rating was in the tank, it owed a massive tax refund to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, and the city council was on a tight deadline to come up with a feasible budget that would, at the very least, provide a balanced bottom line for the next five years.
The state-takeover threat was a real possibility at the time, with many experts in the industry well-aware that then-Gov. Chris Christie wanted control of the city.
However, Christie gave the city’s leaders an out: provide a balanced budget and you can control your destiny.
The city submitted it’s fiscal plan but, after reviewing the plan, state officials decided that, while the budget was optimistic, it didn’t have the concrete details in place to make the bottom line a reality.
So in November 2016, the state takeover began.
‘Working together’ to change AC’s future
Atlantic City’s fortunes have since changed for the better. The city appears to be enjoying new life with its nine casinos, legal NJ sports betting, and an increase in tourism.
But optimism aside, the report indicates there’s still a long way to go.
“We can do tremendous things in Atlantic City, but only if we do them working together and only if we focus on broadening the economy,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.