ATLANTIC CITY — The president of Atlantic City’s city council announced Wednesday that he will ask for approval to cut two at-large city council seats in a bid to save the save the city money. The move, which would need the approval of city council, both houses of the legislature and the governor, would then be put to a referendum vote this November.
Small, who is weighing his own mayoral bid against sitting mayor Don Guardian in 2017, said that cutting those two seats would save the city $480,000 over four years. At a press conference at city hall Small said that Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who were at at loggerheads over a potential state takeover of the city’s finances just months ago, have expressed their support for the measure if it reaches the State House.
The city council is scheduled to vote on the proposal tomorrow.
Asked why the measure would only cut at-large council members and not any of the city’s six ward councilmen, Small said he wants to ensure that every ward has some form of representation in city government while showing that the council is willing to make sacrifices of its own as the beleaguered gaming capital attempts to balance its budget before an October deadline for preventing a state takeover.
“Close your eyes and think every ward in the city of Atlantic City has 4 council members,” Small said. “That’s too much government.”
If Small’s proposal succeeds it could remove his potential mayoral primary opponent, councilman Frank Gilliam. Gilliam’s fellow at-large councilman George Tibbitt typically opposes bills backed by Small. The council’s third ward councilman Moisse Delgado joined them in voting against Small in the past.
All three ward councilmen opposed privatizing the city’s water authority to save money, a proposal that the council voted down but that the state could force it to adopt under the takeover. Small said that his proposal is strictly a cost-saving measure.
“I’m going to leave inside baseball politics to the spectators,” Small said. “This is not an attack on any one of the at-large persons.
“If I choose to go down that route, I’m playing with house money,” he said of his potential mayoral campaign. “This has nothing to do with politics.”
“We need to show self-sacrifice,” said Small’s fellow ward councilman Kaleem Shabazz. “And I think this is a very good measure, an efficient method to show that the city council is going to lead by example.”
Municipal spending was Governor Chris Christie’s primary target during the bitter conflict over Sweeney’s state takeover bill earlier this year, when Guardian, Small and Prieto made frequent fire-breathing public appearances opposing it.
Council members have already given up their council cars, but voted against voluntary pay-cuts in April. Under the terms of the compromise between the state and the city, Atlantic City needs to cut $80 million from its budget to avoid that takeover in the fall.
“Under the current financial conditions of the city, anyone that would bark against this is for self-preservation,” Small said.