Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian assured residents on Thursday that it would be “business as usual” if the resort town were to shut down next month amid a deepening budget crisis.
“I can tell you it’s not going to look any different than today, except we’re probably going to have about 20,000 people in town for the largest beer festival on the East Coast,” Guardian said at a City Hall press conference.
City officials promised earlier this week that essential services — police, fire, and sanitation, for example — would operate through a possible three-week shutdown beginning April 8th. Public schools and the public library will also stay open.
On Thursday, Guardian added that many non-essential personnel had also agreed to work without a paycheck or offered to volunteer.
Many workers would be paid back wages come May 2nd, when the city expects to receive its next round of tax payments.
Guardian said the state flatly refused a request for a $8.5 million bridge loan to tide the city over until early May.
Despite the scarcity of cash, Guardian said Atlantic City would also make its regular bond payment, because other municipalities in New Jersey would have more difficulty borrowing money if creditors thought the state was unwilling to help struggling cities make payments.
City Council President Marty Small attributed blame for the city’s most recent budget shortfall to Gov. Chris Christie, who has refused to sign legislation allowing casinos to make lump sum payments in lieu of taxes — the so-called PILOT bill — resulting in millions of dollars in additional revenue for the city.
“That’s the great heist of Atlantic City. It’s extortion of epic proportions,” said Small. “[Christie] is more concerned about being a celebrity groupie for Donald Trump than serving the citizens of Atlantic City.”
Christie, absent from the press conference, was nevertheless a hot topic of conversation among Atlantic City officials who blamed him for continuing to advocate a state takeover of the distressed gambling town.
“He had said a long time ago that the only way to solve a problem is you bring everyone into a room and solve the problem. No one leaves,” Guardian said of the Governor. “So I’m calling on him today: set up that meeting.”
At a press conference in Newark, however, Christie stood by the state takeover bill passed by the state Senate earlier this month.
“There is only one way to do this: to give broad authority to the state to renegotiate debt and to renegotiate public sector union contracts,” Christie said, adding that he refuses to “put a band-aid” on the city’s budget woes.
Earlier in the day Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he would not post the bill for a vote, citing his worry that the state would be able to cancel collective bargaining agreements.