Atlantic City’s financial problems mean a tax rate increase even higher than last year’s 22 percent rise, the mayor’s chief of staff said Tuesday.
Mayor Don Guardian will present his first budget at Wednesday’s City Council meeting without the $20 million in transitional aid the city is requesting from the state. Meaning, the scenario could get better if the state comes through.
Still, Chief of Staff Chris Filiciello said, even with that money, the tax rate will increase “at least as much if not more than last year” due mainly to the drop in ratables and loss in casino money. He would not say how much the total budget is, leaving that for the mayor to announce when he addresses council and the public Wednesday.
“This is not business as usual,” Filiciello said, noting that moves being made to streamline services, trim waste and bring more work in-house will pay off financially for the city in the next few years. Just not in time for 2014.
“We’re doing things now to put us on the right course so that real savings can be recognized in 2015, 2016, 2017,” he said. “The mayor’s very optimistic that we will come out of this financial hole.”
The 2013 budget adopted by City Council last June included a local tax rate of about $13.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That meant a municipal tax bill of $3,172 for the owner of a home with an average residential assessment of $229,000.
Work was expected to continue on this year’s budget up until Guardian introduces it to council, who also will get to work on it.
Department heads and union leaders have also been in on the behind-the-scenes talks.
But it’s been difficult without the numbers.
“The mayor and the business administrator have told us they’re not going to lay off police,” PBA President Paul Barbere said.
But they also are unlikely to be able to fill their ranks, which are currently at 308 — below the 330 the city now has in its statute.
Atlantic City’s firefighters are safe from job losses, for now, thanks to the terms of the federal grant renewed for another two years.
“We’re barebones as it is right now,” Fire Union President Chris Emmell said. “The city has to be able to operate safely.
Their budget is at about $18 million this year, he said. That’s a $4.3 million cut. Last year, they cut about $4.4 million.
White Collar Workers Union President Virginia Darnell questioned a recent advertisement for a clerk’s position, saying there shouldn’t be any hires when people could face layoffs or other cuts.
“If (the mayor) needs an extra person in his office then he needs to pull from employees already there,” she said.
But Filiciello said the city’s hiring freeze does not apply to essential personnel — a decision made at the business administrator’s discretion.
When Guardian gave his unofficial State of the City address in January, he said he would ask the state for $30 million in transitional aid, the first time the city has applied for that money. After speaking with the Department of Community Affairs, Filiciello said, they were told $20 million was a more reasonable amount.
“It’s really going to be at the DCA’s discretion how much they give us in transitional aid,” Filiciello said.
That money would be used how it’s intended, he said: “To help the transition to a more solvent government and one that is able to be self-sufficient.”
Records show others cities have received similar funding, including Paterson getting $23 million of the $27 million it requested, and Trenton receiving $22 million. Union City got $18 million.
“We can’t turn the cruise ship around quickly,” Filiciello said. “But we have taken steps that will set us in the right direction, hopefully, for years to come.”
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