Atlantic City officials estimate they'll need $238 million to run the municipality next year — but that number likely needs to come down at least $4 million to keep the city’s budget from increasing.

“Obviously, we want to come in with a flat budget. If anything, I want a decrease,” 6th Ward Councilman Tim Mancuso said Tuesday, the day municipal department heads made their financial requests for 2013.

No matter how much Mancuso and other city officials pare their spending, however, tax bills are almost sure to rise next year. Tax appeal case settlements have devalued the city’s ratable base by more than $3 billion, costing the city $143 million in refunds, mostly to casinos.

The official ratable base value for 2012 was not available Tuesday.

Estimates indicate the new, lower ratable base — estimated at $16 billion — coupled with the tax rebate payouts would mean a 25 percent tax increase for most noncasino property owners, state Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said Tuesday.

Officials have until May 2013 to come up with a plan to address that shortfall without burdening residents under their agreement with the DCA’s Local Finance Board and DCA’s Division of Local Government Services. The state started supervising city finances in October 2010.

Part of that could entail recalculating property values for a portion of the city, or all of it, local officials have said.

A citywide recalculation would not provide immediate relief, because the process typically takes more than a year before new values take effect.

Tax Assessor Novelette Hopkins was unavailable Tuesday. Her office said she has submitted a related proposal to Atlantic County Tax Administrator Margaret Schott, who must review and sign off on such initiatives before they begin. Schott’s deputy, Keith Szendry, said he expected Schott to provide more information this morning.

Mancuso and other City Council members did not go to the meeting Tuesday morning in City Hall in which department heads made their financial requests.

The session was the first public discussion of next year’s budgeting needs — and one of several steps before Mancuso and the rest of City Council can examine the financial plan and recommend their own adjustments.

Some department managers had their first meetings Tuesday afternoon with City Revenue and Finance Director Michael Stinson to start figuring out how to cut their projected spending.

After department managers take a crack at reducing spending, the financial plan must go through Mayor Lorenzo Langford.

Langford — along with most department heads — also did not attend the budget-request meeting. He has made it clear he does not want to increase spending from the $234 million budgeted in 2012, Stinson said.

The mayor must provide the budget to City Council by Feb. 12, he said.

Contracted wage increases for city employees often tie the hands of local officials, but the Atlantic City Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 198 agreement negotiated last summer could prove key to making that aspect easier than usual.

Decided by binding arbitration, the new agreement reduced the salary scale for future hires and reduced typical 4 percent wage increases to 1 percent this year and eliminated them for 2013 and 2014. Changes to state law now limit the overall cost of public worker contracts to an average 2 percent increase annually – or 6 percent overall for a three-year contract.

That could set a precedent for the PBA contract being negotiated now. The current bargaining agreement for police expires at the end of the year. It covers all officers through the rank of lieutenants, excluding Chief Ernest Jubilee, deputy chiefs and captains.

PBA President Paul Barbere was unavailable for comment late Tuesday.

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