Our approach is simple: build a plan and execute on it. Beyond providing the best available data analytics and comparative benchmarking in the development of our plans, we offer every client a comprehensive network of support for the implementation of the plan through strong communications, stakeholder outreach and in-depth operational assistance. Any municipal budget recovery plan requires a deep understanding of the city and region’s demographics, economic indicators and broader socioeconomic profile in order to better calibrate our initiatives and anticipate their impact on residents, businesses and other stakeholders; in every project, we work to capture this critical information by analyzing data sets offered by government, academic, foundation and “on the ground” resources, and optimize them for use, transparency and accessibility.
We understand our work to require a truly “hands on” approach and view our relationship with each client as a genuine partnership. In addition, we also seek to build relationships with each client’s unique set of stakeholders, from local businesses and non-profits to unions, state government agencies and academic institutions. Along with our emphasis on fostering strong partnerships with our clients and the community, we believe that our ability to work closely with state government agencies, budget recovery officers and extraordinary fiscal distress programs has allowed our work to have more impact and enhance the likelihood of long-term recovery.
In Pennsylvania, we have deep experience working with the Municipal Financial Recovery Act (Act 47), as well as Act 47 Coordinators, the Department of Community and Economic Development and other Commonwealth agencies such as PENNVEST and the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System.
In New Jersey, we have long-standing relationships and experience with the Division of Local Government Services, the Transitional Aid program, State Supervision, the Public Employees Relations Commission, and County Tax Boards.
City of Atlantic City, New Jersey: Due to the heavy decline in the casino gambling industry from new regional competition and softening demand, Atlantic City’s ability to raise enough revenue from its casino-dependent tax base to support its outsized municipal and school budgets has become severely impaired. After being engaged by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce in January 2014 to offer the City of Atlantic City and incoming Mayor Don Guardian a broad base of budget, financial and policy consulting services, we developed a multi-point strategy to stabilize the City’s tax base by identifying tens of millions in cost savings, a new method of tax assessments to curb the debilitating cycle of tax appeals and coordinated our efforts with the State and other public entities. We have been able to serve as a bridge between the City and the State Division of Local Government Services—as well as the Governor’s Commission on Atlantic City and the Emergency Management team—helping to facilitate the development of a multi-stakeholder executable strategy and recovery plan. We have also worked closely with the private sector to assure that the City’s recovery plan does not leave large or small businesses behind and lays the groundwork for future economic development and an expansion of the tax base.
City of Newark, New Jersey: Beginning in 2010, HJA Strategies was engaged in Newark, New Jersey to be part of the leadership team in a comprehensive budget, workforce, capital and facilities restructuring under Mayor Cory Booker. Working primarily with the Mayor’s Office, the Business Administrator, the Department of Finance and the Department of Economic and Housing Development, we fundamentally realigned the way the City delivered services to achieve extraordinary cost savings and improve the quality of life for Newarkers. Beyond the structural budget issues facing the City, the City faced a 22 percent jump in the annual pension obligation and the end of a $40 million payment from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was then about 11% of the municipal general fund budget. In this period, the City began the largest reduction in force in the State’s modern history—roughly a 30 percent reduction from 4,100 employees to 2,900. To achieve a reduction of this scale required a comprehensive realignment of service delivery focused on Police, Fire and Public Works. Facilities were consolidated and repurposed; 16 City properties were part of a “sale-leaseback” financing with the Essex County Improvement Authority that brought $40 million in immediate budget relief and $16 million for capital improvement. Critical service delivery and quality of life indicators—notwithstanding the consolidation and reduction in force—have improved or show no significant decrease and have been held to be a success and “best practice” by the City, County and State.
City of Scranton, Pennsylvania: In January 2014, HJA Strategies was engaged by the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce to provide a broad array of budgetary and financial consulting services for the City of Scranton, as well as assist a newly elected Mayor William Courtright grapple with the most severe municipal budget crisis in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Beyond having the most distressed pension system in the Commonwealth, which places an ever more significant strain on the budget, Scranton recently lost a court battle with its Collective Bargaining Units imposing a $22 million judgment on the City. The City also guarantees the significant debt of the Scranton Parking Authority, which recently defaulted on several bank loans and is in receivership. After a six-month review of the budget and relevant demographic and economic indicators, we developed a wide-ranging recovery plan that outlined strategies to monetize the Scranton Parking Authority and free the City from its debt, fund and reform the City’s pension through a variety of revenue enchantments and the reallocation of resources and a restructuring of the City’s own debt which incorporates the “stranded” debt of the Parking Authority and the $22 million judgment. We also have assisted the City with its contract negotiations by providing benchmarks, best practices and support for the negotiations themselves. Beyond offering recommendations, we have played a key role as a coordinator for the execution of the City’s recovery, working with stakeholders as wide-ranging as labor unions, the Governor’s Office, United States Senators and higher education institutions.
East Orange, New Jersey: In June 2014, HJA Strategies was engaged by the City of East Orange to provide budget consulting and financial diagnostic services to the City and the new administration under Mayor Lester Taylor III; another engagement was begun in January of 2014 to continue this process and create a data platform for the purposes of the formation of the City’s budget and Municipal Data Sheet, the drafting of which we led. We also assisted in development a “turn around” plan for the municipality, its golf course and Water Commission, and craft this into a narrative for disbursement to the State and other stakeholders. Faced with a budget crisis at the City’s systemically troubled Water Commission, we helped the City navigate to a balanced budget and a future when the Water Commission produces surpluses, not deficits. In addition, we facilitated several meetings and conversations for the purposes of pursuing economic development opportunities, such as with large healthcare and real estate firms.
"Henry and Evan are tremendous assets to any financial evaluation process. In my 25 years as a City Manager they were the best financial consultants I worked with. Their knowledge of government budgeting, bonding, debt, health insurance, etc. is second to none. Their thorough analysis not only identifies financial problems and weaknesses, but also identifies appropriate corrective measures. HJA provides modeling scenarios for the future to show policy makers the budget picture with no action taken, moderate action taken and/or aggressive action and shows the client, through the modeling, how their policy decisions today will affect the budget three, five and 10 years down the road. Their attention to detail and ability to explain complex topics to untrained audiences is extremely valuable."
Edward Sasdelli, State Monitorfor Atlantic City, Retired NJ City Manager, Former Military Officer
“Henry Amoroso and his extremely talented team at HJA Strategies have foresight and knowledge about the true inner workings of municipal government like no other group in the world. Their recommendations and best practices have been at the forefront of my transformational leadership here in Atlantic City, NJ. From the beginning of my first term as Mayor, HJA Strategies has provided a clear roadmap to guide us through some of the most challenging economic times this City has ever faced. They have earned my deepest respect for their farsightedness and professional advice regarding all levels of public interest.”
Mayor Donald A. Guardian, Atlantic City, NJ
"I wholeheartedly express my endorsement of our experience working with HJA Strategies. As background, the City of Scranton has been considered a financially distressed municipality by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since January 1992. The City has been ensconced in the Act 47 Distressed Municipalities Program since that time and, with their help, we are hopeful that we are finally on our way out. With the change in administration, the firm was retained in January 1, 2014 to assist the City. By July 2, 2014, the firm had prepared a creative and very analytical document not only specifying the extent of the City’s fiscal difficulties, but recommended a broad range of solutions to combat our problems. The document was so well received that the firm’s services were extended for two additional terms to assist with the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets and long term planning for the implementation of their solutions. We have found HJA Strategies receptive to working across a broad spectrum of issues to their conclusion and HJA’s analytical and presentation skills are superlative. We have a great appreciation for HJA’s continued assistance and look forward to working with them in the foreseeable future. I highly recommend your consideration of the firm to assist your city."
David Bulzoni, Business Administrator, City of Scranton
"The Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce has worked with HJA Strategies for the past two years in addressing the cost of government within Atlantic City. HJA Strategies’ attention to detail has been excellent, their experience in working through complex issues of lowering the cost of government has been and will continue to be invaluable in our efforts in stabilizing our marketplace."
Joe Kelly, President, Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce