Increased police outreach, more training and software upgrades are just some of the initiatives in the works, Atlantic City officials said as they marked 100 days of the Don Guardian administration Thursday.
Money continues to be a big question, as the city waits to hear about $20 million in transitional aid and will likely need another $100 million in bonds to pay casino tax settlements.
The city had a $10 million deficit last year, mostly from lost revenue from casinos, as successful tax appeals hit the city hard. To try to combat that, the city has been in talks with casinos to reach settlements.
“If we know the values of the casinos over the next two years, we can plan,” Revenue and Finance Director Mike Stinston said.
The city has always chosen to repay the amounts through bonds, because giving them tax credits hurts the city in the end, he explained. While the numbers aren’t firm yet, he said they likely would need to bond “in the neighborhood of $100 million” to pay that money.
But Thursday’s meeting on the first 100 days focused on several things, with each department head talking about what has been done and things that are in the works.
There is a litigation committee to make decisions on pending lawsuits, and the city is trying to resolve matters early to save money, Solicitor Jason Holt explained. There is also no more block billing, with outside counsel now having to detail what their costs are. And more is being done in-house.
Public Works Director Paul Jerkins said they found that some areas were getting double attention, from both the city and the CRDA. So city equipment has been moved to clean up in the neighborhoods. Alleys and lots are also being cleaned year-round now, rather than just during the summer season.
Construction barriers outside City Hall are to set up a “library in the park,” where people will be able to sit outside and have wireless access, Jerkins said.
Outreach is a priority for the Police Department, explained Chief Henry White, whose department is going through major changes such as a technology overhaul and changes to internal policies and the Internal Affairs process.
“Community policing is now a priority,” he said.
All officers will be involved in that partnership. This includes regular Pizza with Police events at the city’s schools, which began at Texas Avenue last week. And, for the adults, upcoming Coffee with Cops meetings will allow more interaction.
The department also is going to bring the police aspect back to the Police Athletic League, with officers assigned to PAL and others offering to “adopt a child.”
That would include not only paying for a neighborhood kid who can’t afford the program, but also mentoring them throughout the year, White said.
A Junior Police Academy over the summer will allow high school students to see what it’s like to be in law enforcement. Those interested in the Fire Department instead will have the option of a new Fire Explorers program done in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, Deputy Fire Chief Vincent Granese said.
Meanwhile, the city’s books are being looked at to try to trim spending.
“We’re reviewing every department, looking at every position and seeing how we can right-size government,” Business Administrator Arch Liston said.
There is a hiring and promotional freeze, but those cost savings will not be seen this year, as the money goes into surplus.
“This isn’t a one-year budget,” he explained after the meeting. “It’s more a three- or five-year budget.”
Adoption of the budget is expected by the end of May. Liston said they should hear something about the aid request in about 30 days.
Despite the problems, Director of Planning and Development Elizabeth Terenik said she’s been getting a lot of good calls.
“Developers are interested in the city,” she said as she marked her “100th hour” as director on Thursday. “Other communities would be thrilled to have the partnerships, the assets and the resources that we have.”
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