At a Thursday press conference in the resort city, Murphy unveiled a report authored by special counsel Jim Johnson that said Atlantic City still needs “direction and partnership.” Murphy hired Johnson shortly after taking office.
The report said the state would not restore local oversight until the city’s reliance on state aid has been “substantially reduced or eliminated,” or as close as possible to zero, Johnson said.
“Without a doubt, positive things are happening in Atlantic City,” Murphy said. “However, if we want to see today’s progress endure long into the future, we have to tackle long-standing challenges such as poverty, unemployment, affordable housing and public health. Most importantly, we must invest in the people who live and work here.”
The state has had oversight of Atlantic City since 2016, after it racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and saw many of its casinos shut down.
Atlantic City needs to diversify its economy, adopt more effective local government practices and provide more education and career opportunities to its youth, the report says.
“In order to accomplish these initiatives, Atlantic City must reject approaches based on silos and silver bullets and work to develop in a broad, inclusive and comprehensive way,” Johnson said. “Stakeholders in the city will have to do many things well, but they don’t have to do them all at once.”
The report goes on to say Atlantic City should develop means to clamp down on its number of abandoned and vacant properties.
“Part of the important goals of this report is to increase the ratable base on the property,” Johnson said. “The importance of getting a director of planning and really doubling down on all the vacant property is actually to increase the amount of ratable property.”
The city failed to find ways to identify and reward dedicated municipal workers and punish corrupt officials, the report says, and recommends training senior managers and expanding data collection and management technology.
Atlantic City failed to address how to grow the economy beyond the tourism industry, the report continued, and also needs to identify what led to the failure of several casinos years ago to prevent a similar situation in the future.
“We’re not going anywhere, and I say that in the best sense of the word. We have Atlantic City’s back,” Murphy said.