Friday, December 16, 2016
Despite a nearly 50 percent decline in the equalized value of Atlantic City over the past 10 years, Atlantic County’s tax base outside of Atlantic City has actually grown by 7 percent, according to a December 2016 report by Moody’s Investors Services.
The county’s foresight in planning for the economic impact following the closing of multiple Atlantic City casinos has enabled it to maintain its strong credit rating of Aa2 while Atlantic City’s rating has fallen to Caa3 and its finances continue to deteriorate.
“The Moody’s report validates the county’s concerted efforts to exercise fiscal responsibility while also working to stabilize, diversify, and grow our local economy and create much needed jobs for our residents,” stated County Executive Dennis Levinson. “We are not waiting for the other shoe to drop; we are proactively investing in our future.”
The report noted the county’s efforts to diversify its economy beyond gaming with the construction of Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus and the adjacent South Jersey Gas corporate offices, financed in part with the sale of $128 million bonds by the Atlantic County Improvement Authority.
Atlantic County is also working to promote development outside Atlantic City. The Atlantic County Economic Alliance, formed in February 2016 following the preparation of the Atlantic County Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan by AngelouEconomics, has contributed to attracting new business interests and retaining and expanding existing businesses.
The Atlantic County Economic Alliance has established an interim board and acting executive director and has obtained office space at the Hamilton Mall. It is currently collaborating with Atlantic Cape Community College, Stockton University, the Greater Atlantic City Chamber and the Atlantic County Workforce Development Board to train people for employment outside the gaming and tourist industries. It is also working to align state incentives with its economic development strategy plan.
“Additional growth drivers outside Atlantic City include a new brewery facility, expanded yacht manufacturing, expanding pharmaceutical companies and new residential communities,” stated the Moody’s report. “The county is also supporting the avionics and aeronautics industry, which includes collaboration with the (Stockton) university on an avionics research and development park in Egg Harbor Township where work has begun.”
Growth outside Atlantic City has partially offset the decline in the city’s share of the county tax base which is down to 18 percent from a peak of 39 percent in 2007. While Atlantic City casinos remain the largest taxpayers, the county’s dependence on the city’s tax revenues continues to decline, it said.
Moody’s also cited Atlantic County’s demonstrated history of strong governance.
“While Atlantic City has endured political gridlock, the county has achieved structural balance and demonstrated stability through budgeting accuracy, strong reserves and contingency plans. The county also has substantial fund balance and other trust funds and routinely prepares multiple budgets and tax schedules to account for Atlantic City’s uncertain fate.”
“Finally, the county has a well-thought-out, long-term debt plan. This includes regular planned debt issuances for annual capital projects and the strategic use of the county’s guarantee for economic development projects,” the report stated.
“I remain extremely optimistic about the future of Atlantic County,” said Levinson. “We have endured serious struggles and challenges but we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Shovels are in the ground at the Stockton Atlantic City campus and at the Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, two major game changers for our area, in addition to expansion projects at Teligent and Comar, two pharmaceutical manufacturers located in Buena Vista Township. We also recently welcomed Barrette Outdoor Living Company at the former Lenox China facility in Galloway. I look forward to continued progress that will serve to benefit our taxpayers and residents throughout Atlantic County.”