Christie appoints emergency management team for Atlantic City as part of restoration plans

Gov. Chris Christie is appointing an emergency management team to oversee Atlantic City's operations as part of plans to help the struggling seaside gambling resort get back on its feet.

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The governor's office announced Thursday that an "Atlantic City Emergency Management Team" would appear with him after a summit meeting on Atlantic City's future. One of the team members selected is Kevyn Orr, who helped guide Detroit through bankruptcy.

Last fall, Christie had proposed an emergency manager for Atlantic City with sweeping powers beyond those of a state overseer currently watching over its finances.

The scope of the team's duties wasn't immediately revealed, but the governor had earlier spoken of giving an outsider wide control over spending and operations of the city and its schools.

Thursday's meeting with the new emergency management team will be the third time the Republican governor will bring together casino executives, local, state and union officials to discuss ways to help the struggling seaside resort.

Since the last session Nov. 12, Democratic and Republican state officials have advanced differing aid proposals. Democrats led by state Senate President Steve Sweeney want to let casinos make payments in lieu of taxes — called the PILOT plan — and help reduce the city's debt.

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Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown opposes the casino program, arguing all Atlantic County property owners should get a tax freeze.

Four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos closed last year, and three more are in bankruptcy.

On Wednesday, the co-sponsor of the Democratic plan, state Sen. James Whelan, called on Brown to drop his competing proposal. Whelan said Brown's plan for a five-year property tax freeze is unconstitutional because it deprives people of the right to file tax appeals. But the plan by Whelan and Sweeney would place the same restriction on Atlantic City's casinos in return for letting them make payments in lieu of taxes for 15 years.

Whelan said the difference is that the casinos would agree to forgo appeal rights to participate in the program.

The idea of the PILOT plan is to give the casinos cost certainty while eliminating costly and unpredictable tax appeals that have deprived Atlantic City's treasury of tens of millions of dollars in recent years.

In proposing his own plan last month, Brown said the Democratic plan would reduce taxes on some of the larger casinos by as much as $10 million a year but would increase county taxes on property owners by $9 million a year, figures that Democrats dispute.

The plans emerged after two previous Christie-led meetings. Other proposals include a powerful state monitor for Atlantic City, with powers beyond the state overseer now in place; creation of a public-private development corporation to bring new business and residents to the city; and diversion of casino investment taxes now used for redevelopment projects to help pay down Atlantic City's municipal debt.

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