Atlantic City’s losing streak just got worse.
The administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie decided Wednesday to put the financially struggling resort town under state control.
Long feared by city officials, the state takeover caps months of arguments from the Boardwalk to Trenton over how to fix Atlantic City’s financial problems, which include a $100 million budget hole and $500 million in debt.
The city’s economy took a dive as the casino gambling industry there diminished in recent years, due in part to competition in neighboring states.
But it is still unclear exactly how a complete state takeover will affect residents in Atlantic City and across the state.
“It’s a road we’re on that is a newly paved road and we don’t know where the turns are,” said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of Rutgers University’s Bloustein Local Government Research Center.
“There’s a lot of uncertainties coming along. We don’t know what the state’s plan is on how they are going to use the authority under the law,” he said. “We don’t know a lot of things.”
Last week state officials rejected a financial recovery plan proposed by city officials, setting the stage for a complete takeover.
At the time, Democratic City Council President Marty Small criticized state officials for rejecting what he called a sound recovery plan without suggesting an alternative.
The state’s plan still remains a mystery, but what’s clear are the powers at its disposal under the terms of the takeover, which could last up to five years.
State officials will be able to break union contracts, fire city workers, dissolve local agencies, and overturn decisions made by City Council.
They will also be able to sell off Bader Field, the water authority and other city assets.
“That’s very strong medicine,” said Michael Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
“They [could] come in and sell a football field, a recreation field, a hiking trail. Those people have developed that asset over time to respond to the needs of the community,” he said. “But the decision to sell it could be done without the community’s input.”
Although Republican Mayor Don Guardian pledged to work with the state during the takeover, he and members of City Council previously said they would sue if the state took control of Atlantic City.