ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Don Guardian may get more time, but not a whole lot.

State leaders are close to a deal giving the city 150 days to draft a plan that drastically reduces the budget. The threat of an immediate state takeover is subsiding.

But an important detail — the budget benchmark — will determine whether the city can fix its finances in time or if the legislative compromise is simply a countdown clock to a takeover.

“The period of time for us to be able come up with the plan — very reasonable,” Guardian said Friday of the negotiations. “The one year till the end of 2017 to actually implement that plan — I think that’s tough but also reasonable. The question is going to be the dollar value.”

Slashing last year’s $262 million budget in half is an “impossibility,” Guardian told The Press of Atlantic City. But if the herculean task is possible, Guardian said: “I’m going to get it done.”

Guardian said the budget is already down to $225 million in 2016. The city’s full-time workforce has been reduced from 1,255 to 904 since he took office, and salaries are down $5.6 million from last year, he said.

In an interview in his office Friday, Guardian ticked off savings in other areas, such as liability insurance ($3.9 million) and a new prescription drug plan that will save $1.2 million. New ordinances increasing fees could collect more than $1 million, while a revamped parking plan could generate an additional $500,000 to $1 million for the city, Guardian said.

But such gradual help will not be enough under a new state plan expected to call for tens of millions in cuts in a limited amount of time

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Guardian said restructuring debt will be key. The city has $240 million in bonded debt and owes Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa $160 million in tax refunds. The city paid $38 million in debt service and $27 million for tax appeals out of its 2015 budget.

With the backing of the state, Guardian said the city can restructure the annual debt-service payment to $10 million or even $5 million that could be paid over 30 years. But to get the state on board, Guardian said there’s a good chance the city will have to pull its auction off for Bader Field to use the 143-acre former airport as collateral. The minimum bid for the property at a city auction next month was supposed to be $155 million.

“Just in case everything goes bad, the state has something that they can count on,” Guardian said.

Bringing the Municipal Utilities Authority under the city as a water department — something City Council has not approved in three tries — could generate about $4 million annually for the city, which could be used to pay down its debt to Borgata, Guardian said.

Another big-ticket item is public safety. With help from the state, Guardian said early retirement incentives could buy out police and firefighters with more than 20 years experience. If 75 percent of those eligible for the buyouts took them, the city could replace them with new hires at starting salaries, saving another $6 million.

“Then the rest is the other stuff,” Guardian said of smaller items that could save the city a million bucks here, a million there.

“I don’t have any more rabbits in the hat,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7215

Twitter @_Hetrick

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