ATLANTIC CITY- Barring a state takeover or a loan, Atlantic City's government will shut down April 8 except for essential services.
Mayor Don Guardian said Monday that the closure would last until May 2, when the city expects to receive the next payment of quarterly taxes.
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Guardian spent Monday in Trenton calling on the state for a short-term loan, but he told The Press of Atlantic City the state rejected his pleas. The short-term loan of $8.5 million to avoid the City Hall closure will not come without the passage of the takeover and financial rescue package, Guardian said.
“We are running out of money. Everyone is in trouble, but we all have a responsibility to the residents of Atlantic City,” said Chris Filiciello, Guardian's chief of staff.
Shortly after 5 p.m., Guardian sent a news release outlining how the shutdown would occur. The release was part warning and part gamesmanship, the latest example of the war of words between city and state officials.
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The $8.5 million would get the city through those three weeks, but the city could be in a similar situation in a couple months, especially if the state withholds aid, Guardian said.
“We’re buying a month or two months, but it’s a very dangerous situation,” Guardian said.
The shutdown presents obvious difficulties for employees and the public, but none more than police and firefighters who would still have to report to work without being paid.
With Atlantic City employees facing the prospect of receiving their last paychecks April 8, the city is seeking a bridge loan from the state that could cover expenses until May. Should the state approve the loan?
Essential services employees will work without pay for 22 days from April 8 through May 2, when the city receives its second quarter property tax payment, Guardian said. Those employees will be reimbursed for those three weeks after that payment is received, Guardian said.
School employees will not be effected. The city made its March monthly payment to city’s Board of Education to avoid school closures. The city made a $4.25 million payment to the school board this week, and will make another $4.25 million payment by Thursday, Guardian said.
“If we shorted the school, I don’t think they’d have any other choice but to close,” Guardian said. “They have no surplus anymore. So you could force the schools to close to keep the city open, but that’s just playing with our kids.”
The schools could have been closed for as long as 22 days had the city not made the payment, Guardian said.
Members of the police and fire departments said Monday they will still report for duty even if they are not paid.
Police Officer Keith Bennett, who serves as the state delegate for the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local 24, said officers were notified over the weekend that their paychecks could stop. He said he has advised officers not make any large purchases at this time.
Bennett said he met with police Chief Henry White on Friday and was advised paychecks could stop after April 8.
“But, you know what? Every single officer I’ve talked to has said they are still coming to work to protect this city,” Bennett said.
Bennett said officers will still receive health benefits because they are still employed, and death benefits will also be available, but there are still many legal questions that need to be answered.
“We’ve all taken an oath, and when you have a mayor and an administration that has your back, and then you’re going to have his back and come to work and not let the city falter,” Bennett said.
“For us it will be business as usual. If our paychecks are there, they are there, if they’re not, they’re not. Hopefully something gets solved soon,” said Atlantic City Firefighter Steve May, who also serves as the vice president of union Local 198.
“These firefighters are keeping their heads up and continuing to come to work. This affects everybody equally in this city. We are only one part of the equation.”
The city is still considering what to do with employees who collect taxes and fees for the city, such as parking meter enforcement.
“There are certain things where the individual brings in two, three, four times their salary,” Guardian said of such workers.
For programs like senior transportation, recreation for children and maintaining parks, the city will ask faith-based organizations, civic associations to volunteer.
“We’re going to ask: Can you volunteer? Can you help us for this 22 day period?” Guardian said.
But departments like planning and development and licensing and inspections would be closed for those three weeks, Guardian said. The employees will not be paid, but their health benefits will continue, he said.
Guardian told the state Assembly budget committee Monday that there will be 40 fewer city employees by June through retirements and attrition, and there are 330 fewer city employees since Guardian took office two years ago.
The city stopped paying overtime several weeks ago and ceased purchasing as well, Guardian said Saturday.
But the state seemed to be holding its ground Monday.
“I don’t expect the state to write them a check,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney said on WOND Monday, when asked about the April 8, cash deadline.