Atlantic City unions vote on plan to avert shutdown

The rescue package creates a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) system for casinos, and redirects more than $60 million in casino money to Atlantic City's budget and debt payments.

Unions representing Atlantic City's municipal workers were voting Wednesday on a delayed wage payment plan that would allow City Hall to avert an April 8 shut down, said Chris Filiciello, chief of staff to Mayor Don Guardian.

Filiciello described the plan, which would allow the city to pay workers every 28 days beginning April 8, as "only a temporary fix." The plan, if approved by the city's four unions, and then by City Council, would delay paychecks until May 6, several days after the city gets an infusion of cash from second quarter real estate taxes.

The city had previously announced it would run out of money April 8 and would have to shut City Hall for three weeks. Essential workers would continue to work without pay during a shut down, but the city had said they would be reimbursed after the city collects its second quarterly taxes.

But with negotiations for a rescue package and a controversial takeover proposal consuming Trenton legislators and the Governor's office, Filiciello said the union vote would allow more time for a solution to be reached. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has said he will not post the takeover bill if it allows the state to rip up collective bargaining agreements.

The rescue package creates a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) system for casinos, and redirects more than $60 million in casino money to Atlantic City's budget and debt payments. The PILOT system was designed to prevent damaging tax appeals from casinos, which have brought the city to the fiscal breaking point, but an amendment added in at at the last minute by the state Senate allows the casinos to opt out of the system if casino gaming is expanded to North Jersey.

"The Mayor is trying to find a way to buy more time for negotiations on the state level while still providing the much needed services to the residents of Atlantic City," Filiciello said in an e-mail. "After May 6, however, it's still unclear how long the City can remain open without the promised $33.5 million from the State, the PILOT bill," and other promised state aid.

Atlantic City currently owes Borgata Hotel and Casino more than $150 million in back taxes from succesful appeals, though the two sides are currently in court-ordered mediation to try to come to a settlement. The city also has $240 million in debt payments, but said it will make an April 1 debt payment.

City worker unions include a police union, a firefighters union, a white collar union and a blue collar union. There are about 900 workers, down more than 300 since Guardian took office. "All the different unions are voting on this," Filiciello said.