ATLANTIC CITY - Like a Monopoly player trying to keep a few remaining dollars under the board until he can pass Go, Mayor Don Guardian said the iconic seaside city will close City Hall, stop paying its workers, and cease all nonessential services starting April 8 as it staves off a catastrophic insolvency.

The closure will remain in effect until at least May 2, when the city expects to receive its next payment of quarterly taxes, the mayor said.

Guardian was in Trenton Monday seeking a bridge loan from the state Local Finance Board, but the state refused. Gov. Christie is seeking a total state takeover of Atlantic City government and has said he won't approve any aid unless he gets it.

"We are working to ensure that all essential services will continue to be provided from April 8 through May 2 to the residents of Atlantic City. Essential services are identified as police, fire, revenue collections, and some divisions in public works," the mayor said.

Guardian blamed the shutdown, to take effect at 4:30 p.m. April 8, on the failure of Christie to sign an aid package that would have delivered $33.5 million - an amount authorized and promised by the state when it approved Atlantic City's current $262 million budget.

"The choice was keeping schools alive and making payments for bonds," Guardian said Monday evening, speaking at a forum on possible expansion of casino gaming to North Jersey. "If we defaulted on our debt, every other municipality in this state would have a tough time borrowing."

"We're making some ethical decisions," he said. "Unfortunately that means closing down the city. Fortunately our police and fire have agreed to work."

Guardian warned state legislators that the city's financial "day of reckoning" was approaching - when it would no longer be able to make payroll and would default on its bonds.

"Bankruptcy will effectively kill one of New Jersey's most iconic cities," Guardian said in testimony to the Assembly budget committee. "I don't see how that day of reckoning is in anyone's interest, but yet it seems as if the state is hell-bent on playing a real-life game of chicken with our city."

Ahmid Abdullah, president of the city's blue-collar workers' union, AFSCME Local 2303, said his 100-plus members would be devastated by the shutdown.

"We're already the lowest in pay," Abdullah said. "Our members are trying to feed and provide for their families."

Abdullah, who drives a sanitation truck, said members start at a salary of $22,000 and work mainly for health benefits, which would continue.

Atlantic City Police Officer Keith Bennett, a union representative, said officers have said they would work without pay.

According to a statement from the mayor, no employees would be paid during the closure period. The city has about 900 public workers, down more than 300 since Guardian took office.

"We are greatly aware of the potential impact this will have on all of our employees," the mayor said in the statement. "We are making every effort to find solutions prior to the April 8 deadline."

The mayor said the city remains in discussions with the state. The state previously floated the city a $60 million bridge loan, which the city has paid back.

The governor's office referred a request for comment to remarks Christie made last Tuesday in Linden, when he said, "I am not going to put any Band-Aids on Atlantic City anymore . . . and I am not going to be held responsible for fixing it if I am not given the tools to fix it."

Christie has said he would only sign an aid package if it came with a state takeover, which is opposed by city officials and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

A spokesman for State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who introduced the takeover legislation, declined to comment, as did officials at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which is owed more than $150 million in tax appeals from the city and skipped a $7.2 million tax payment, with an OK from a judge.

Prieto said in a statement: "It's time for Gov. Christie to do his job and use his existing authority to resolve this once and for all."

In Trenton, Guardian urged legislators to pass the bill that establishes a fixed payment in lieu of real estate taxes for casinos (the PILOT bill), and redirects about $60 million in casino taxes currently directed at marketing to pay off city debt.

The city is also auctioning off its former airport, Bader Field.

In addition to the debt to Borgata, the city is carrying about $350 million in municipal bond debt.

A 45-day period of mediation between Borgata and the city, ordered by Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez, ran out Monday, but Chris Filiciello, chief of staff to Guardian, said the talks were ongoing.

Borgata general counsel Joe Corbo declined to comment on whether the casino would continue to withhold tax payments and on whether the casino would withhold them under a PILOT system.

Bennett, the state delegate for Atlantic City's Police Benevolent Association Local 24, said officers have indicated they would work without a paycheck.

The union has opened its collective bargaining agreements with Guardian, negotiated givebacks, and cut its ranks to 285 from last year's 330 (and a high of 424 in the '90s). It is resisting a state takeover that could lead to a county-run force or a unilateral new contract. Prieto has said he will not advance a takeover bill that includes the authority to do away with collective bargaining agreements.

Bennett said city employees have become the pawns.

"A lot of people are paycheck to paycheck," he said. "It will affect people in one way or another, mortgage payments, car payments."

He said the unions and the city had worked to cut budgets and payroll costs.

"It's a political game," Bennett said. "Unfortunately the people of the low end of the spectrum are the ones paying the price. Everyone I've spoken to is going to continue to work. There's been the threat of the state police coming in. We don't need them."

arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453 @amysrosenberg

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