Cost cuts but no tax hikes in Atlantic City, N.J., five-year recovery plan
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By Elinor Comlay
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (Reuters) - Atlantic City, New Jersey's cash-strapped casino hub, will slash at least 100 jobs, or about 10 percent of its staff, but does not plan to raise taxes in a five-year fiscal recovery plan aimed at avoiding a state takeover, according to a presentation by city advisers on Monday.
The gambling resort has lost more than two thirds of its property tax base since 2010 because of competition from casinos in neighboring states, which has led five of the city's 12 casinos to close since 2014.
The city also plans to sell a defunct airstrip to its water authority for $110 million to fill a budget hole and meet terms of a $73 million emergency loan issued by the state earlier this year.
Under the recovery plan, Atlantic City will borrow to help pay off big tax appeal settlements it owes to the MGM Resorts International-operated Borgata and other casinos, lawyers said at the city council hearing.
Mayor Don Guardian said the plan will be presented to state officials in Trenton on Tuesday after the city council approved it Monday night.
From there, the state has five days to accept the plan. If it does not pass muster, the state could take over city operations, a move New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has pushed for in the past.
The absence of tax hikes may help win local approval, as some council members are concerned the water authority's acquisition of the airstrip could lead to higher water rates.
"This may not be the best plan, but it's the only plan," said Ernest Coursey, a freeholder for Atlantic County, speaking in response to other members of the public who expressed objections to the plan after it was presented.
The city has already cut at least 300 jobs - more than a quarter of its workforce - since late 2013, but will reduce positions further by offering early retirement incentives.
It also struck a new contract with concessions from public unions and will raise additional revenue from parking and other fees.
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay in Atlantic City; Editing by Hilary Russ and Bill Rigby)
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