By Briana Vannozzi
You’d see it as a $2 fee tacked on to your Atlantic City hotel room bill. If approved, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s proposal would keep the tax in place for two years and stave off deep cuts looming for the police and fire departments. All the money restricted to preserving public safety services.
“We’re just happy that someone else is being asked to help out with this financial crisis the city finds itself in because the only ones, so far, who have been asked have been public safety,” said PBA Local 24 President Matt Rogers.
Rogers says it’s the only good news the department has received since the state takeover. As efforts to beef up tourism and city visitors continue, he worries about having enough manpower to keep people safe.
“They’re not specifying how they’re going to get rid of people. Right now we’re at 277 and they want to get down even further to 250,” Rogers said. “Where we’re at now is the lowest we’ve been I believe since pre-casino days, so they want to take that additionally further. Another 27 officers off the street in any way they see how.”
He says the police force is already being asked to work 12-hour shifts, increase contributions to health care, cut rank differentials and overtime calculations.
“To us it’s not really cuts, it’s a dismantling of the department and that’s what we’re afraid of and everyone should be concerned about that. We’re going to have less firemen than we did in the city in 1854,” said IAFF Local 198 President Bill DiLorenzo.
DiLorenzo is bracing his department to lose as many as 100 firefighters.
“You just have to look at our budget line from 2010 to now. We’ve cut 40 percent of our budget or more. So there’s no doubt that we’ve made tough decisions and our budget right now sits at about 7 percent of the city’s budget,” he said.
The new fee would be temporary and by most estimates generate a few extra million dollars in revenue. But hospitality industry execs say they’re being unfairly targeted.
The chairman for Atlantic City’s Convention Bureau called the action “damaging” to the tourism industry. In a statement, Meet AC Board Chairman Jeff Albrecht said, “The Meet AC team has been working hard to place a positive image of Atlantic City, while booking record-breaking business,” adding it would “…put another road block into the process of selling the destination.”
Last year Meet AC conducted a study that showed Atlantic City has some of the country’s highest room taxes. They add up to 19 percent on casino rooms and 15 percent on non-casino with a room rate of $100. And the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority says it collected $8.7 million on its $3 hotel room fee in 2015.
“The reality is we can’t tax our way out of this problem. We are in a very competitive marketplace in terms of trying to attract conventions and special events here and every time you add to that a tax burden, other towns take notice and say don’t take your convention to Atlantic City, they’re going to overtax you,” said Sen. Jim Whalen.
Gov. Chris Christie’s office has no comment on the pending legislation, while opponents question what changes are possible over the next two years that will prevent this tax from remaining.