There has been a lot of heated rhetoric about the state takeover of Atlantic City’s finances.
The loudest complaints have included the loss of local authority and the state’s attempts to save money by cutting public-safety jobs.
Those debates aside, impressive progress has been made on getting city spending under control, something local officials proved incapable of doing on their own for years as the resort approached the brink of bankruptcy.
The latest headlines that reflect positively on the state takeover include dramatic reductions in Atlantic City’s tax levy and property-tax rate and state-appointed overseer Jeffrey S. Chiesa’s announcement of settlements of the city’s remaining casino tax appeals.
The appeals have been a crushing financial drag on the city for years, pushing its bond rating to junk status. Chiesa appropriately made reaching settlement agreements with casinos that are favorable to the city a priority from the day the takeover began last fall. The progress he has made is evidence the city is moving in the right direction to correct years of mismanagement.
Details have not been available on how much will be saved through the latest tax-appeal settlements involving Carl Icahn’s properties as well as Caesars Atlantic City, Bally’s Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort and Golden Nugget Atlantic City. But City Council has approved issuing $80 million in bonds to fund the repayments, which include the tax years of 2014 through 2017. The news follows a previous agreement brokered with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa that the state said saved the city $93 million.
The agreements are part of the reason a review of city budgets shows its tax levy is the lowest it’s been since 1985 and property-tax bills are down an overall 11.4 percent, including a 5 percent cut in the municipal rate.
“When everyone finally works together for the best interests of Atlantic City’s taxpayers and residents, great things can happen,” said Mayor Don Guardian, who was joined by City Council President Marty Small and Gov. Chris Christie, as well as Chiesa, in calling the numbers great news for the city.
They certainly should be welcomed by both taxpayers and businesses looking to invest in the city. Hopefully, the numbers will build momentum so the city can eventually stand on its own financially.
Marc Pfeiffer, of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University, says the state deserves significant credit for getting Atlantic City’s finances under control through its work, which has also included modifying contracts and cutting costs.
Chiesa says the city is on the road to living within its means. “We’re not done yet, but we’ve made tremendous progress that working families can appreciate,” he said.
The undeniable progress is encouraging and should inspire the cooperation at all levels needed to help it continue.
The firm financial footing the progress is creating will be beneficial as officials tackle difficult tasks ahead, including future police and fire contracts and staffing levels.