ATLANTIC CITY — City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved introduction of a $225 million budget that will keep the municipal tax rate flat for 2018.
A public hearing and final vote on the budget will be held July 18.
A copy of the budget was not included with the posted agenda or public packet prior to Wednesday’s meeting. Mayor Frank Gilliam said it would be posted online after the meeting.
In presenting the spending plan to the nine-member council and public, Gilliam noted it was a $220 million operating budget that included an additional $5 million in grants.
In 2014, the city’s operating budget was $260 million. Gilliam said despite the 15 percent reduction in operating expenditures, services in the city have remained the same.
Several city employees took the microphone to address the fact that staffing levels have been reduced, wages have been stagnant and departments throughout City Hall were being asked to do more with fewer resources. Many of those employees voiced a desire to reinstate civil service for city employees after the legislation that authorized the state takeover of the city in 2016 eliminated the provision, which affords government employees certain protections. It was requested that council adopt a resolution in support of civil service, which Council President Marty Small Sr. indicated the governing body would do.
At a press conference Tuesday, Gilliam and Small announced that city employees making less than $40,000 annually would receive a $500 one-time stipend. About 205 of the city’s 765 employees will receive the stipend, no later than Labor Day.
Small said the stipend was a “small token of appreciation” council felt was warranted. He also addressed the remaining city employees who earn more than $40,000 a year, some of whom apparently contacted him directly and were upset they were not receiving additional money.
“It’s not that we’re ignoring people that make more money,” he said. “We appreciate the hard work that you bring to the city of Atlantic City.” He added that council would continue to explore ways to make those employees financially whole as well.
The 2018 municipal tax rate is $1.79 per $100,000 of assessed property value, the same as in 2017, when the municipal budget decreased property taxes for the first time in more than a decade.
Negotiations to increase state aid to $3.9 million from the $1.9 million initially proposed was the reason for a flat budget, Small said.
Gilliam said crafting a budget that provided some measure of tax relief for property owners in the city was “no easy task,” citing several challenges that included maintaining levels of service and necessary capital investments.
The mayor and council president praised the state for its involvement with developing this year’s budget. Gilliam and Small have both been opponents of the state takeover of city government. But both officials acknowledged that tough decisions, such as the issuance of more than $40 million in bonds earlier this year to pay down deferred pension and debt obligations at the behest of the state, were ultimately in the best interest of the city and its residents.