Atlantic City to slash costs but reject more state oversight

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 08, 2015 5:18 PM

By Daniel Kelley

(Reuters) - Atlantic City has endorsed steep budget cuts but rejected the idea of a state-appointed emergency manager as part of the struggling New Jersey gambling hub's recovery plan.

The city council on Wednesday unanimously endorsed the plan, which envisions $40 million of budget cuts over four years on a roughly $260 million budget.

It also calls for steep reductions to the municipal workforce and permission from the state to divert pension payments to debt reduction, and it seeks about $20 million in state aid.

Atlantic City has seen its municipal finances decline with the fortunes of its local casino industry, which has suffered steep losses from competing casinos in nearby states. According to city figures, casinos in the past paid roughly 75 percent of the city's property taxes.  

Four of the city's twelve casinos closed in 2014. A fifth, Trump Entertainment's Taj Mahal, narrowly averted closing and remains in bankruptcy. Caesars Entertainment, the owner of three other casinos in Atlantic City, has said it could file for bankruptcy in mid-January.

Property values in the city have fallen by 45 percent since 2008, while property tax rates have more than doubled in the same period, according to the Governor's Advisory Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment.

Stabilizing the city's finances has been the focus of major summits backed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and leaders in the state legislature.

The city's own plan, formulated by Republican Mayor Don Guardian and released in December, largely dovetails with recommendations made by the advisory commission.

But it rejected calls for an emergency manager in favor of local control of the city's budget and hiring decisions. Guardian is already working closely with a state fiscal monitor.

The plan's cuts to police costs, meanwhile, could hold off recommendations that the city's police force be dissolved and turned into a regional department.

(Reporting by Daniel Kelley in Philadelphia; Editing by Hilary Russ, Bernard Orr)