Atlantic City budget process points to positive fiscal strides
A projected third straight Atlantic City budget with no property tax increase signals a continued successful collaboration since state intervention took effect in late 2016.
New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs announced Friday that Atlantic City is on track to adopt a 2019 budget that would avoid increasing property taxes while also increasing compensation for full-time and non-uniformed municipal workers. The DCA crafted the first Atlantic City tax decrease in 2017 soon after it began fiscal oversight followed by a $225 million 2018 budget that kept taxes flat.
“The positive direction of the city’s budget is due in no small part to the work of the city administration and city council and their collaborative role in putting the budget together,” Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, who is also DCA Commissioner, said in a statement. “Their common purpose throughout this process has been to keep property taxes stable and, if possible, to provide more compensation to city employees who have made financial sacrifices during the city’s fiscally lean times.”
Atlantic City did not provide specific numbers for the budget, which is still subject to city council and state approval. The city was looking at a 23.9% tax increase going into the budget process, according to city council president Mary Small.
A collective bargaining agreement recommended as part of the budget would provide raises for the Atlantic City White Collar Professional Association, Teamsters Local 331, the Alliance of Atlantic City Supervisory Employees and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. All employees would receive a 2% salary increase in 2019, 2020, and 2021 with a one-time $1,000 stipend also going to full-timers employed by the city as of Jan. 1, 2015. The entire proposal would cost the city around $2.1 million when factoring in stipends, retroactive salary increases and future salary increases this year.
“We are proud to present the taxpayer a flat budget and we kept our promise to the dedicated workers of this great city to compensate them after years of patience,” Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam said in a statement. “I am confident that this budget reflects we are moving the City of Atlantic City forward and we will remain financially prudent.”
Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of Rutgers University's Bloustein Local Government Research Center, noted that Atlantic City has been able to achieve budgetary savings in recent years from retirements. He said that while specific details of the budget plan still haven’t been released, the partnership between city and state officials avoiding tax increases, coupled with public worker pay raises, shows that the state takeover remains a success story more than three years in.
“It is a sign of continued progress under state supervision,” Pfeiffer said. “The state intervention is working the way it was intended to work and they are managing costs and services.”
Atlantic City’s junk bond rating got a four-notch upgrade last October to B from CCC-plus from S&P Global Ratings, which cited the city’s fiscal progress under state oversight and savings achieved through resolving outstanding casino tax appeals. Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the city’s debt two notches to B2 from Caa3 in the fall due largely to an improved casino industry and efforts to diversify the tax base.
"While more work remains to be done on this year’s budget, we are confident the city’s leaders and professionals are on the right path," Oliver said.