Officials tout latest state plan for Atlantic City revival

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A plan to turn Atlantic City around will generate fiscal momentum in the troubled city's third year under state control, according to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.

The city's state overseers released the 21-page plan Tuesday after seven months of community input.

Officials say it provides a roadmap to develop new business sectors, combat blight and attack a foreclosure crisis that is the worst in New Jersey.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said during a press conference Tuesday that the implementation plan that includes priority projects for 2019 represents another important phase in the state’s new partnership approach with Atlantic City under a five-year state takeover law that took effect in November 2016 under the previous governor, Chris Christie.

“For the past seven months it has been a labor of collaboration and community engagement as we have sought to chart out a course for Atlantic City and the work that we are all doing on the ground,” said Oliver, who heads the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which has overseeing Atlantic City finances under state intervention. “The collective and collaborative effort to renew Atlantic City has been a consistent theme of the governor since he took office and it is absolutely producing results.”

The new Atlantic City implementation plan follows a transition report the Murphy administration released in September to provide a framework for returning the cash-strapped city to local control at the conclusion of the five-year Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act period in fall 2021. Oliver said Tuesday that some recommendations from the report have already been achieved, including the implementation of a citywide master plan, providing in-person ethics training to all city employees and all city supervisors taking certified public manager training administered by Rutgers University.

“These successes are changing the narrative in Atlantic City and showing the broader community that the city is a vibrant place where positive things are happening,” Oliver said.

Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam credited Oliver and Murphy for steering a positive working partnership toward a “collective impact model” following divisive battles under the Christie administration. He also applauded the work of attorney Jim Johnson, who Murphy appointed last year as special counsel to review Atlantic City’s transition to local control, and helped craft the implementation plan.

“Jim Johnson has single-handily in my opinion helped shift the mindset, helped the shift the direction and more importantly set the stage for a better Atlantic City,” said Mayor Gilliam of the attorney, who was undersecretary for enforcement at Treasury under Bill Clinton. “We have a lot more work to do, but nevertheless we have a blueprint and an implementation plan that is going to allow us to get there.”

Atlantic City’s fiscal progress achieved under state supervision was cited by S&P Global Ratings for a four-notch upgrade last October to B from deep junk-level CCC-plus. Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the city’s debt two notches to B2 from Caa3 in November citing an improved casino industry and efforts to diversify the tax base.

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