Atlantic City is preparing for a weeks-long shutdown of all nonessential city services, following New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s repeated refusal to grant the city a short-term loan, reports Press of Atlantic City.
Mayor Don Guardian announced this week that dire financial straits will force city hall to close down from April 8 until May 2. Fire and police employees will work without pay for those 22 days, and be reimbursed after the city receives its second-quarter property tax payment on May 1. Non-essential employees won’t work, and they won’t get paid. Some may file for unemployment benefits, which a state representative told Press of Atlantic City they would be eligible for, if they meet other requirements.
Ironically, that funding will come from the state, which has refused to give Atlantic City an $8.5 million bridge loan to span the funding gap. Christie has said, and repeated at a news conference Tuesday, that the city’s assembly should approve a state takeover bill that passed the state Senate instead. That bill would give the state of New Jersey the authority for five years to sell Atlantic City assets, eliminate departments and terminate collective bargaining agreements, among other emergency measures intended to stabilize the city’s finances. (For more on Christie’s record on New Jersey cities, see Next City’s “Chris Christie’s Loud, Expensive and Very Controversial Urban Agenda.”)
“I am no longer going to allow the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey to be responsible for the irresponsible decisions made by mayors before Mayor Guardian and councils, and put a Band-Aid on this issue,” Christie said at a news conference.
The city’s finances are in bad shape, for sure, but Jake Blumgart reported in a Next City feature in 2013, “Christie’s attempt to blame Atlantic City’s decrepit state on the municipal government is a profound misreading of power dynamics in the city, where the casinos and CRDA [Casino Reinvestment Development Authority] have long wielded very significant influence and investment power.”
City finances have been in a steep decline since casino revenues peaked in 2006 and then rapidly began to plummet in the face of new regional competition. Since 2007 the city has had to paid out $200 million in tax refunds to casinos that didn’t meet revenue projections, despite Atlantic City’s tax base shrinking 34 percent in the same time period.
While the city prepares for the shutdown, local civic organizations are meeting to plan out how they can perform some of the city functions, like transporting seniors, feeding the homeless and organizing after-school activities for children. Schools will not be affected. To avoid closures, the city made its March monthly payment to the city’s Board of Education.
“If we shorted the school, I don’t think they’d have any other choice but to close,” said Mayor Guardian. “They have no surplus anymore. So you could force the schools to close to keep the city open, but that’s just playing with our kids.”
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.