January 18, 2016

Atlantic City Takeover etc. in today’s Roundup

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Atlantic City Takeover Talk
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has an op-ed in the Star-Ledger in support of his takeover plan for Atlantic City, which he says would allow the city to “monetize” various assets including Bader Field and the Municipal Water Authority, and to “right-size” city government, “through shared services, consolidation and other methods.” Sweeney’s takeover announcement coincided with a call from the emergency manager to privatize the fire department and regionalize the police. Hard to tell if those are the carrots or the sticks.

The alternative–municipal bankruptcy–would be a “disaster” Sweeney says, though for whom or what exactly is less clear. Presumably he means for the municipal debt holders, which is a surprisingly candid acknowledgement that bond traders run the city. And the state. And everything.

The fun argument we’ve heard a lot lately, from Sweeney and also Chris Christie, is that Atlantic City spends much more per capita on public services than similar municipalities. Sweeney recently called Atlantic City’s spending (at $6,700 per capita) “outrageous” compared to that of Piscataway for instance, which, with a population of 60,000 spends $55 million per year, or about $4,400 per capita. But the Howler wonders how many tourists visit fair Piscataway each year. Is it higher or lower than the 26.7 million who visited Atlantic City in 2013? Or the 27.2 million who came the year before?

Those A.C. bachelor parties don’t clean up after themselves.

Also, given that certain segments of the tourism advocacy industrial complex think the problem with Atlantic City is that too many people live there, and that large sections of the city have been effectively land-banked preserved as pristine vacant lots for decades as a result, it seems doubly disingenuous to blame the locals for the disproportionate cost of maintaining the industry. But what do I know.

More #actakeover Response
Speaking for the opposition, the Philly Inquirer (“Selling Out Atlantic City”) accuses Christie and the state legislature of pulling the plug “on what’s left of Atlantic City’s economy.” Though they can’t resist the blithe reference to A.C.’s “history of overspending and mismanagement” they at least acknowledge the “extraordinary” public costs “arising from the millions of visitors” each year. Also, they say Sweeney’s plan, “ignores the fact that Atlantic City is already under extensive state fiscal oversight.”

The Press of Atlantic City meanwhile says the Sweeney plan, “deserves qualified support,” saying the city’s taxpayers themselves, would be “among the biggest beneficiaries” of the proposal, which would freeze their municipal purpose tax for 15 years. “Taxpayers in the rest of Atlantic County will soon wish they could have the same deal.”

Elsewhere, the Press of A.C. notes Camden’s poverty rate increased and its reliance on state subsidies grew during the eight years the stake took control of that city. At the same time, the city’s government got bigger.

For another wider perspective, the Courier-Post reports on the state’s history of takeovers, with the caveat that Atlantic City’s case is “as unprecedented as it is dire.”

For even more takeover talk, read A.C. councilman Frank Gilliam (“Held Up Without a Gun”) or Kaleem Shabazz (3rd Ward Councilman) here.

Historical Bridgeton Tavern Burned
Fire ripped through and seems to have destroyed the historic Hillcrest Tavern and Coach Room in Bridgeton. Sections of the tavern dated to 1782, when Broad Street was still the Kings Highway. (Vineland Daily Journal)

Atlantic City Shop To Close
Elliot’s Incorporated on the Atlantic City Boardwalk is closing down by the end of the month, proprietor Elliot Nehmad said. The store, which Nehmad called a “gallery” that sells sculptures and novelties, has been open since 1973.

A conference on battling opioid and prescription drug abuse is being held in Cape May Courthouse this Thursday. The event is sponsored by Cape Assist and the Cape May County Pride Committee.

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