- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 7, 2015

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Wary of state encroachment onto its turf but desperate for more funding, Atlantic City’s governing body endorsed a financial recovery plan designed to show New Jersey it is serious about taming its out-of-control finances.

Wednesday’s City Council vote was seen as a way to let the state know the city is a reliable partner for the millions in additional state aid it is seeking.

“We have to show a united front in terms of working together from a state perspective,” Council President Frank Gilliam said. “We understand Atlantic City has been broken. We are looking for support from the state, but we still need to retain our sovereignty.”

He said he hoped the vote would be seen by state officials as a sign of good faith.

The plan includes tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts and layoffs - and fierce resistance to a new proposed state overseer. The council endorsed the plan, but did not immediately put it into effect; several council members said specific elements of the plan could be changed in coming months.

The vote came as state officials and Gov. Chris Christie weigh at least three proposals to help the city’s finances and those of its struggling casino industry, which last year lost four of its 12 gambling halls. A key proposal would let casinos make reduced payments instead of property taxes for 15 years, and help the city reduce its debt.

“Clearly, property taxes are the major obstacle for progress in Atlantic City,” Mayor Don Guardian said in introducing the plan last month.

“Atlantic City is not a burden on the state of New Jersey; Atlantic City remains the golden goose of the Garden State, but she is currently wounded,” he said. “We need temporary help over the next few years.”

Resident Linda Steele said she is wary of the state trying to seize more power in Atlantic City, even as she acknowledged missteps on the part of the city and state in recent years.

“We are in a sinking boat, but it doesn’t mean we have to be blackmailed into succumbing to everything the state wants,” she said. “They have always wanted to be in here.”

The city’s budget was more than $261 million last year. It continues to suffer as the deterioration of its casino industry leads to casinos filing - and winning - costly tax appeals that devastate the budget.

A series of proposals by Democratic and Republican lawmakers aim to help the city, though the parties are split on tax breaks for casinos, with Democrats advocating them and a Republican proposal rejecting them.

In convening two summits on Atlantic City’s future last year, Christie explored ways to help the struggling seaside resort but said it must make its own difficult decisions to reduce spending if it wants more state aid.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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