Another battle is shaping up in Atlantic City. The state’s rejected its fiscal recovery plan and now could assume financial powers over the struggling town; powers that include selling assets, firing workers, even busting union contracts to salvage a city already half a billion dollars in debt. NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill reports.
“This fight is far from over,” said Atlantic City Council President Marty Small.
Atlantic City’s elected leaders say the state Department of Community Affairs got it all wrong in rejecting the city’s five-year recovery plan.
In a 75-page report, the DCA says, “The plan is not likely to achieve financial stability for Atlantic City.”
It doesn’t balance next year’s budget to comply with the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act that the governor signed into law in May. Five budgets, DCA says, leave a financial gap that could never be closed. Tax revenues are based on flawed assumptions. Hundreds of layoffs and buyouts are not enough. The plan lacks payment in lieu of taxes with the casinos. And the DCA says the plan to sell Bader Field to the Municipal Utilities Authority and use the proceeds to pay debt is speculative.
Three firms prepared the plan for Atlantic City. One criticized the state.
“The effor there wasn’t to have this plan reviewed to see if it would work. It was to see what’s wrong with it around the edges,” said attorney Ed McManimon III.
“I think the report was disingenuous. It was extremely disrespectful. The opinion was misguided, misinformed and filled with politics,” Small said.
Atlantic City says it’s revising its plan to address the DCA’s inaccuracies and will give it to the state tomorrow — on the 150th day to submit a plan by law.
If that doesn’t work, Atlantic City says it’ll meet the Christie administration in court.
“I don’t have the right to call other people liars and I’m not doing so at this time. There were representations by people in the administration of this state that said they would look at it with an open mind and that they did not have preconceived notions. I believe that if the plan is still rejected, it will end up in court and just as you’ve enjoyed the last five weeks of Bridgegate, you will enjoy the representatives that we bring that will be able to testify under law that the statements that have been made are less than truthful,” said Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.
The governor has accused Atlantic City leaders of failing to handle the city’s fiscal business and wants the state to take it over.
“The idea of the state coming here is daunting. And everyone, every resident, every employee should fear for their lives because that’s what will happen,” Small said.
Mayor Guardian says the revised plan will go to the state by the close of business tomorrow.
Mary Alice Williams: What has the DCA said, Michael, about reviewing the revised plan?
Hill: I’m checking my email. I asked about that and we haven’t gotten a response yet. We don’t know what the law exactly says about that. But the mayor says, look, tomorrow’s the deadline, it’s still a submitted plan, you have to review it.
Williams: What does Atlantic City think is at the root of this?
Hill: Politics. Atlantic City says we know what the intent here is. And I asked this question last week — suppose the state just outright rejects this. And the mayor and the city council president, Marty Small, says the best we can do is to offer the best plan. One of the attorneys who helped put the plan together, Joe Baumann, said look, there are a dozen criticisms in the state’s report that address issues that have to be dealt with after the plan has been approved or adopted. You can’t criticize this plan until these things have a chance to go to work.
Williams: Is that why they say the numbers aren’t adding up? Because these things have to be adopted?
Hill: Exactly, yes. So it’s interesting to see what’s going to happen. The state is going to review this plan and Atlantic City says our obligation is simply to submit another plan.
Williams: Michael Hill, thank you.