Bill Nowling, the new spokesman for Atlantic City Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin, said Tuesday the city is on schedule with the fiscal restructuring timeline Lavin put forward in March.
Since his appointment, Lavin has spoken publicly on just two occasions, which Nowling attributed to the nature of his work.
“At this stage, there’s not a lot that can get communicated because a lot of the discussions are closed-door meetings,” Nowling said.
A Michigan resident, Nowling served as the spokesman for Detroit’s former emergency manager, Kevyn Orr. Orr was paid $70,000 and served as a consultant to Lavin from January to April, but left the job at the end of that month.
Nowling is currently a senior staffer at Finn Partners, a communications firm. He said last week, when he started in the Atlantic City position, that the company will be paid a maximum of $17,500 through the end of July for consulting services.
Nowling is the first official to speak extensively on Lavin’s work. On Tuesday he reported the city was keeping the restructuring timetable Lavin’s March plan had set for it.
That plan called for $10 million in additional 2015 budget cuts, for the deferral of annual health care and pension payments and for debt negotiations to take place with creditors, among other actions.
Lavin said in March that a second report would be issued in 90 days, but Nowling said Tuesday a written update isn’t currently planned.
Regarding the possibility of a municipal bankruptcy, Nowling said that Lavin is keeping “all options on the table.”
However, “a negotiated solution between the city and its creditors and stakeholders is best for all parties,” he said, adding that Lavin’s plan is explicitly designed to avoid bankruptcy.
As far as the recent city employee layoffs, he emphasized that the mayor and City Council are still running the city, not Lavin.
While city programs such as those managed by the recreation department have value, Nowling said, the city still faces severe financial pressures.
“We can talk all we want about the benefits (of specific programs), but we still have to find $100 million in savings and revenue,” he said, referencing the $101 million 2015 budget shortfall identified in Lavin’s March report. “That’s what the emergency manager is trying to balance.”
Nowling wouldn’t rule out changes to the structure of the city’s Municipal Utilities Authority.
City Council unanimously voted against dissolving the authority in May, though it could vote to reconsider the matter.
Nowling described passage of the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT legislation approved this month by the state Legislature as “a very important component of any plan to restructure the city,” but said Gov. Chris Christie’s office hasn’t told him whether the governor will sign it into law.
Christie’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Lavin’s report emphasized the need to renegotiate the city’s debt. It listed $270 million in bonded city debt, along with an additional $224 million in obligations composed of “compensation absences” and both potential and settled casino tax appeals.
Negotiations with creditors are ongoing in an attempt to create a more favorable payment schedule for the city, Nowling said. He said he couldn’t comment on the talks, but noted that they’re closely connected to the resort’s fiscal health.
“Bond investors are very sophisticated,” Nowling said, adding that they “want to know what makes the city more creditworthy, because that protects their investment.”
Enhancing the city’s creditworthiness by shoring up its finances, he said, has therefore always been one of Lavin’s central goals.
Negotiations with unions will continue as well, and could affect the benefits the city is obligated to pay going forward, Nowling said.
Nowling said his job is to communicate Lavin’s work to both the financial community and the public. He said he will be splitting his time between Michigan and Atlantic City, and that a dedicated communications staffer may eventually be added in the resort.
“You’re dealing with Wall Street restructuring folks,” Nowling continued. “They’re very good at what they do,” but he added that community engagement can be lacking during restructuring efforts.
While the holding of public meetings has been discussed, Nowling said none is currently scheduled, and he doesn’t have plans to visit a City Council meeting.
Asked about the timeframe for Lavin’s future work in the city, Nowling said it hasn’t been finalized.
“With all restructurings, you try to do as much as you can as fast as you can,” he said.
Contact: 609-272-7251 JSantore@pressofac.com