[toc]There was a point earlier this year when it seemed that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wouldn’t budge on his desire to see Atlantic City’s finances handed over to the state.
Those sentiments were corralled, at least for five years, when lawmakers decided to offer the city a chance to create a balanced five-year budget to bail the gambling mecca out of its fiscal woes. The bailout also included the stipulation that Atlantic City leaders close a $100 million deficit in the 2017 budget.
Top-level look at the proposed budget
On Monday, the city took another step toward what is hoped to be a turnaround by approving a five-year budget in a 5-3-1 vote that NJ.com called “bitterly divided.” Mayor Don Guardian told Philly.com reporter Amy S. Rosenberg that the budget, which is now on Christie’s desk, is a step in the right direction.
“It brings stability to Atlantic City government financially,” he was quoted as saying, “(and) provides no tax increase for five years.”
The deal also included a $103 million settlement with Borgata Hotel & Casino. The city owed the casino “more than $150 million in tax refunds” but was able to negotiate a payment reduction of more than 30 percent. The Borgata, however, denied such a settlement had been reached after the plan was released.
The budget must still be approved by the state legislature and Christie, something it’s not clear will happen.
Not many hopeful when budget deadline was set
Back in May, Christie approved a bailout that gave Atlantic City five months to come up with a five-year, balanced budget. At the time, Guardian was optimistic about his city’s financial future, telling the New York Times he knew the road was tough, but Atlantic City was ready for success.
The Press of Atlantic City was less optimistic, running a story with the headline: “Is five months enough time for Atlantic City to fix the budget?”
Reporter Christian Hetrick pointed out that the city’s 2017 budget, at the time, was in the hole $100 million. The bailout Christie signed offered $56.3 million in subsidies, dropping the debt to $44 million.
Though the bailout package reduced the debt by more than half, it’s easy to see why the five-month extension had its detractors. After all, there was talk of the North Jersey casino referendum possibly sinking three to five Atlantic City casinos, causing the loss of 23,000 jobs and doubling unemployment and foreclosure numbers. (That ballot measure is now on life support, however.)
In addition to that, the city’s budget plan notes, Atlantic City lost two-thirds of its tax base as casinos started to close during the past two years.
What the next five years would look like
Guardian’s plan for balancing the budget includes several measures that will, in some cases, nickel-and-dime local residents:
- Adding more parking meters to city streets
- Selling vacant properties
- Outsourcing services to Atlantic County
- Cutting 100 jobs
- Early retirement plan for municipal workers
- Sale of municipal airport property
To learn more about how the city will generate enough money to counter the loss of taxes from closed casinos, click here to download the official copy of the Atlantic City budget.