ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – New Jersey’s takeover of most of Atlantic City’s major decision-making power may be extended for another four years.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, a Democrat who says he worked with Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney on the measure, has introduced a bill that would extend state control – currently set to end this year – while restoring civil service protections for city workers, including police and firefighters.
“I’ve always said self-governance is the goal, but we’re just not ready to give full control to Atlantic City,” Mazzeo said.
He said he would like to see the city pay down its debts to a greater degree, and increase the share of properties that are owner-occupied, saying 70% of homes in the city are rented.
Mazzeo said property taxes have been brought under control, and need to remain that way for years to come.
“Before COVID, we saw Atlantic City getting its finances stabilized, and there’s been a pretty good partnership,” Mazzeo said. “I think we need to continue this partnership for a few more years.”
Mayor Marty Small, who as City Council president strenuously fought the state takeover, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The takeover was proposed by former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and enacted in the Democrat-controlled state Legislature in 2016.
It was designed to help the state reign in runaway expenses, high taxes, and poor governance in the seaside gambling resort that, despite the presence of the casino industry, had enduring financial woes. Appeals from the casinos successfully challenging their tax assessments blew large holes in the city’s budget.
It stripped civil service rights and protections from many city workers, making it easier to make changes in the way city departments were staffed and run.
Murphy, Christie’s Democratic successor, campaigned on a pledge to end the state takeover, a stance he reversed shortly after taking office.
The city’s financial situation has improved since the takeover began, and Wall Street ratings firms have upgraded the city’s fiscal outlook. City officials say Atlantic City’s budget will be below $200 million this year for the first time in many years.
In an editorial published Sunday, The Press of Atlantic City said the legislation has benefited the state and city by giving Atlantic City “significant improvement in its condition and outlook.”
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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.