By Michael Hill
Mayor Don Guardian says Atlantic City sends $200 million a year in tax revenue to New Jersey and needs help protecting its brand.
“Don’t kill us. Don’t open up another casino in North Jersey,” Guardian said.
The mayor says he’s trying to stabilize property taxes that have risen in Atlantic City by more than 50 percent in two years.
He stepped into the lion’s den and told the Atlantic City Tax Appealers.
“Regardless of what happens here, freezing taxes for three years for non-casino properties. But, that does not mean not reducing it,” Guardian said.
Guardian’s response to the shrinking gaming industry and revenues: shrink Atlantic City’s budget from $261 million to $200 million, cut 151 city jobs and benefits packages by Jan. 1.
His goal is to shrink the police department budget from $55 million to $40 million, retire and lay off 45 officers, reduce cars driven home from 75 to 15 and re-negotiate two police union contracts a year early — an offer the unions apparently can’t refuse.
“If we can’t trim the police department, the police department knows we’re going to have to fire the entire police department and start all over again,” Guardian said.
The mayor says the city will have to rely on new technology for smarter policing and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority will pay for 30 new officers to walk and patrol the tourism district — $15 an hour and no benefits. But they’ll have arrest powers and must turn in their guns at night.
The mayor plans cuts to the fire department, the courts and eliminating some departments and privatizing some services.
He says Stockton College taking over showboat sends high-tech companies a message.
“That’s gotta be the 10-year plan — good paying jobs, business that comes here that’s going to require education,” Guardian said.
The mayor mentioned a number of new housing and office projects, plus Bass Pro Shops building two developments.
He wants the shuttered Trump Plaza demolished to make an entertainment zone, much like Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties.
“So it went from a ghetto to the most desirable place that young people want to live in in Philadelphia. What it would do for AC is people come in and they don’t see the ocean, they don’t know where the boardwalk is and it was always too expensive to clear that block. By taking down Trump Plaza, when you come into the city it would give you the vision all the way to the boardwalk. And you can extend the stores and the restaurants all the way to the boardwalk as well,” said Guardian.
The overall goal: relieving the burden on taxpayers.
“The city can be clean, I can landscape every street if there’s no business. What good is it looking like Disney World?” asked Guardian.
He told the Tax Appealers the Revel deal is not dead and “level heads” are meeting to avoid shuttering the Taj Mahal next week.
“They’re very close,” Guardian said.
Mayor Guardian has laid out his plan for AC in bits and pieces but never comprehensively as he did before the Tax Appealers.
“I’m sure that as this plan unfolds, the economic development package will really come in too. We have to have something to offer people,” said ACTA Co-chair Linda Steele.
Maybe the Tax Appealers will hear what they want when Mayor Guardian speaks to the state Assembly on Thursday.