By Cleve Bryan
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Proudly mounting a rainbow flag above the walkway, Atlantic City’s openly gay mayor Don Guardian officially designated Park Place Beach as LGBT-friendly.
“I’m so glad to be the mayor of Atlantic City where we don’t just love diversity we embrace it,” said Guardian before a crowd of several dozen people on Monday afternoon.
This is one of several events this summer aimed at drawing people from the LGBT community to Atlantic City.
“Don has a lot of work ahead of him but there’s an excitement in the air, you can feel it here in Atlantic City,” says Rich Helfant of the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance.
In his first six months in office, Guardian has made clear efforts to draw visitors and clean up the city’s appearance, but his biggest challenge is finding money to operate the city.
According to the city’s Director of Revenue and Finance Mike Stinson, the tax base shrunk in half over the last four years from close to $21B in 2010 down to $11.3B in 2014.
The casino industry, which has struggled as gambling expands in neighboring states, is seeking tax paybacks from the city for over-assessing their tax obligations.
To make up for lost revenues there was a 22-cent raise in the property tax rate last year and depending on state aid, the increase this year could be as much as 65 cents.
So far the city has secured $6.8M in aid for essential services and there hasn’t been a decision yet on their application for $20M in transitional aid.
Stinson says the now $262M budget will likely be finalized in July and presented to New Jersey’s finance board which has final approval over Atlantic City’s finances.
“We’re in this together, we’re trying to rebuild the city and I’m trying to build up tax income and jobs for residents,” says Guardian.
Around town Guardian seems be getting good reviews.
“Looking back for his short period of time he’s doing exceedingly well,” says Mark Wenic an 18-year resident of the city.
Natasha Taylor didn’t support Guardian when he was elected but his attitude changed her mind.
“I think he’s in tune, he’s in touch and he’s out in the community a lot,” says Taylor, an Atlantic City native.
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