After the terms of revised bills for a state takeover of Atlantic City were announced this week, the combative dynamic between city and state has started to trickle out to county government and the Atlantic City area’s own senator. Likening the city’s reaction to the new takeover deal to “a spoiled child,” Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) said that the city will need to make its peace with compromise as the state takes a commanding role in its financial decisions.
“Nobody gets everything they want in these complicated legislative issues,” Whelan said. “Right now my sense is we’re nowhere.”
Whelan pointed to the abbreviated terms of the takeover and to the new bill’s encouragement of early retirement offers for state workers to avoid layoffs. Under the current draft, the state Local Finance Board would oversee changes to the budget for five years instead of ten.
“Stabbed in the back is what the state has done,” Guardian told the Philadelphia Inquirer after sponsor Steve Sweeney (D-3) announced the terms of the new takeover bill, adding that the new language “strips the city of all of the responsibility, gives the state the ability to sell anything they want, lets them remove employees and replace employees.”
Whelan is also the primary sponsor of a bill to offer payment in lieu of taxes to Atlantic City’s remaining casinos in an attempt to circumvent the tax appeals that have devastated the area’s ratable base. A new draft of that bill was also released this week. Governor Chris Christie has vetoed the bill twice, with a conditional veto prior to the takeover announcement and a pocket veto after the terms of his veto were met.
Atlantic City’s Municipal Utilities Authority will be the most crucial bargaining chip going forward, for both the city and county. With changes to the Authority now mandated in the language of the takeover bill, rumors persist of a merger with the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which handles sewage hazardous waste treatment.
The county’s percentage share of PILOT payments is still not written into the bill. Whelan said that if the county can make the MUA profitable, it could see a greater share of the revenue — 13.5 percent instead of the 10.4 percent mentioned in the bill’s accompanying statement. The language of the bill mentions the possibility of a greater cut if the county takes “additional responsibility for and on behalf of Atlantic City.”
Though Whelan said that a Camden-style county takeover of the city police department has not been on the table so far, Republican County Executive Dennis Levinson said that he believes the city’s growing dependence on the county will only continue. Levinson has been a vocal critic of the PILOT bill it was originally introduced, and called for the city to reassess the casino’s properties rather than offer them the deal.
“We’re willing to cooperate anyway that we can,” said Levinson of the possibility of a police merger. “If they want us to take over certain city functions we most certainly would. But I will not dedicate any Atlantic County taxpayer money to it. If the state wishes us to take over function, it better come along with a check.”