By Brenda Flanagan
“This is the only playbook the state can run to make it work,” said Atlantic City Council President Marty Small.
Small brandished Atlantic City’s 120-page recovery plan in front of lawmakers who spent three hours hearing how it will work to pull the gaming town out of its financial tailspin as the clock ticks down toward a state takeover. Some on the Judiciary Committee joked they had wanted something a little simpler.
“It’s kind of like, we’re going to raise all this money over here, we’re going to pay off all this stuff over here and Atlantic City’s going to be fine,” said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald.
The complex, five-year plan includes a workforce slashed by layoffs and buyouts and renegotiated union contracts. And it raises $110 million by selling vacant Bader Field to the city’s own Municipal Utilities Authority — a tactic lawmakers say the state may question.
“Are you confident that the MUA purchasing Bader Field is in fact a legal transaction? There seems to be some dispute,” Greenwald said.
“It was an out of the box idea but it uniquely met every single goal of the city and the MUA,” said Ed McManimon, attorney at McManimon Scotland and Baumann LLC.
“You’re telling this body that the best plan right now is to have the MUA purchase Bader Field?” asked Assemblyman Chris Brown.
“Correct,” McManimon said.
If the state refuses to accept that part of the plan, financial experts noted it’d blow a $110 million hole in it. Another issue — whether Borgata actually agreed to settle their $150 million tax appeal for just $105 million. There’s nothing in writing.
“What assurances do we have — if any — from Borgata that that will be acceptable?” asked Assemblyman John McKeon.
“They’ve come to an agreement. Borgata was unwilling to paper that agreement — to sign a document — pending until the financial plan was approved. All we have today is the word of the representatives from Borgata,” McManimon said.
In the end, lawmakers praised the city’s ability to craft a plan while under the gun, although they continue to argue over who should be in control.
“While there’s a tremendous desire for local control, I think you can understand with the resources that are coming in, we have a kind of a desire to say we want to be involved,” Greenwald said.
“These are things that they said we wouldn’t have the courage to do and we are clearly doing them in this document,” Small said.
What’s next? The Department of Community Affairs has until next Tuesday to accept or reject Atlantic City’s proposal. The city has said it really doesn’t have a plan B, but if the state rejects the plan it will appeal.