ATLANTIC CITY — State Senate President Stephen Sweeney reaffirmed a bipartisan commitment to Atlantic City on Wednesday, a week after the mayor introduced a budget that could carry a 47 percent property-tax increase.
“We have to help this mayor and give him the opportunity to turn this thing around,” Sweeney said after a morning meeting with Mayor Don Guardian.
The two talked briefly before heading to the Irish Pub for a news conference focused on the importance of allowing sports betting in the resort. But pressing on city taxpayers right now is a potential 65-cent municipal tax-rate increase. That rate is based on a budget that does not include $20 million the city has requested in state transitional aid along with some grants it also is awaiting word on.
Sweeney said state and county leaders will work with the city to try to get help.
“What happens in this city impacts the entire state of New Jersey,” he said.
Guardian called last week’s budget introduction a “root canal” for the city but said the things being done now will pay off over the next few years.
“2015 is going to be a good year,” he said Wednesday. “’16 is going to be a very good year. And ’17 is going to be a great year.”
The city needs to establish itself as a convention center, which will lead to more jobs, more revenue and more residents, the mayor said.
“We own the market,” Guardian said. “We knew we can be a city people want to come to.”
But if they come, can Atlantic City benefit from a room tax? That was a question City Council and Business Administrator Arch Liston raised at the March 12 meeting.
“That will be part of a meeting with the governor,” Sweeney said, referring to a sitdown he hopes to set up soon.
“It’s part of trying to figure what we can do and where we can help,” he said. “It didn’t break overnight, and you can’t fix it overnight. What’s important is that you show progress.”
Sweeney later addressed criticism that the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which runs the Tourism District, has been slow to move on some initiatives.
The Senate president said he met recently with Atlantic County representatives and believes that a push for the Atlantic County Improvement Authority to take a more active role in the city’s development should be taken seriously. County officials have touted the county’s $820 million in low-risk bonding capability, saying it could be of use in financing and administering projects.
“The county has a role, and they should be part of it,” Sweeney said. “They shouldn’t sit on the sidelines, because the county is impacted. If Atlantic City goes bad, the county is taking the hit, too.”
He suggested the agencies should be working together in a natural partnership. Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica said he was recently assured that the CRDA is amiable to working in concert with the improvement authority.
Meanwhile, Sweeney reaffirmed the state’s commitment to blocking casino expansion in North Jersey until the end of the five-year trial the state committed to in February 2011.
“As long as I’m alive and I’m the Senate president, we’re not moving it,” Sweeney said of legislation that could lead to long-discussed casino expansion in the Meadowlands. “What is the net gain to the taxpayers of New Jersey if we close one here and open one there?”
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