Atlantic City officials offered differing assessments of the latest recommendations put forward by the governor’s advisory commission chaired by Jon Hanson.
“While there are some things in both plans that I agree with, there are some things I do not agree with, and some things that I need to further study,” Mayor Don Guardian said in a statement. “It’s time to change the status quo, and everyone recognizes that.”
Guardian said the city must cut its budget and has maintained weekly contact with the Governor’s Office as it works on a layoff and reduction plan to be submitted to the state. Guardian said the report is expected in two weeks and will follow an outline similar to what Hanson’s team suggested.
“That recovery plan is going to be much, much more detailed with issues we all agree upon,” he said.
That includes lowering the cost of government in Atlantic City, finding additional financial support and stabilizing casino assessments.
City Council members also gave the Hanson report mixed reviews.
Councilman Moisse Delgado blamed casino tax appeals for the city’s financial situation, rather than government waste. But he supported redirecting funding from the Atlantic City Alliance and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to property-tax relief, as Hanson proposed.
“The residents have to pay for the injustices that the (casino) industry has created,” Delgado said.
Delgado said cutting the alliance’s budget by half “makes sense to me because I don’t see the marketing that they’re doing.”
A 2014 alliance report credited the organization with improving the city’s media coverage and public profile, as well as increasing revenue by organizing well-attended events.
Councilman Timothy Mancuso said he strongly supports the report’s recommendations.
“I want to compliment the state and the committee, because we need help,” Mancuso said. “The decisions that need to be made are crisis decisions.”
Mancuso said the city must cut its spending, reduce school expenditures, lower property taxes and address the portion of its budget dedicated to deficits. He backed the Legislature’s decision to turn Atlantic City into a New Jersey Growth Zone, making its non-gambling businesses eligible for large tax incentives to promote growth.
“Anything that can help stimulate industry and investments in the town, we need to look at,” he said.
Councilman Marty Small said he is taking “a wait-and-see approach” to the proposals.
“I recall back in 2011 when the Tourism District was announced, there were a lot of grand plans and promises from government, and it never came to light,” Small said.
Small said the city faces serious difficulties but highlighted positive recent news, such as the purchase of Revel Casino-Hotel by Brookfield US Holdings LLC and the announcement that Richard Stockton College will expand into the defunct Showboat Casino Hotel.
“The demise of Atlantic City has been greatly exaggerated, and we will pull through this tough situation,” Small said.
Small supported the report’s proposal to extend the benefits afforded to the Tourism District to residential sections of the city. He said many residents feel the district’s current borders have “split the city into two halves.”
The report proposes freezing property taxes for three years, a move Small supported. But he also called for the creation of a trust fund to be used for immediate property-tax relief, paid for using luxury tax and room tax revenue.
In one of its more controversial recommendations, Hanson called for the creation of an “emergency manager” with “extraordinary supervisory powers.” Hanson said Thursday that the manager’s authority would supersede that of the mayor, council and existing state monitor Ed Sasdelli.
Guardian said Sasdelli already has full reign over financial decisions in the city, including over the mayor’s office.
“I think it’s semantics,” he said of the position. “(The state monitor) doesn’t have power over schools right now, and maybe that’s what Jon (Hanson) is alluding to.”
Mancuso supported creating the position, saying such an individual would be free of local political ties and hence capable of making difficult decisions.
“As long as we cure our sinking ship, it’s perfectly alright,” he said.
But Delgado described the proposal as “odd.”
“For the state or Hanson to suggest that this emergency manager (or) ‘czar’ is necessary, that doesn’t sound right,” Delgado said. “It’s disrespectful to (Sasdelli) and to us as a city. We need help, but not under the caveats that they’re trying to suggest.”
Small also opposed creating the position.
“What do you have an elected mayor and council for if we can’t make decisions for the people who elected us?” he said.
Councilman George Tibbitt said he wasn’t familiar enough with the proposal to offer an assessment.
Councilmen Aaron Randolph, Steven L. Moore, Rizwan Malik, Frank M. Gilliam and William Marsh did not immediately return calls for comment.
Contact John V. Santore: