Strathmere wasn't the first coastal community to chafe under the tax burden of its mainland municipality, as well as the geographical and cultural divides between the two.
Strathmere residents lost their bid in Superior Court this week to secede from Upper Township. They had hoped to become part of Sea Isle City. The ruling underscored — again — the difficult legal hurdles a community faces in seceding if its municipal government objects to the move.
And the fact is, seceding should be difficult: Wealthy communities should not be easily able to join other, similar communities in order to lower their tax bills - widening the disparities, social and economic, between richer and poorer towns.
Strathmere residents said that wasn't what was happening in this case. And they made a good argument that the community would receive better services in some areas, such as trash collection and police response time, from Sea Isle.
Still, no matter how much Strathmere contended the secession bid was about poor services, this much was undeniable: Strathmere represents 17.5 percent of Upper Township's ratable base, and sends one child to school. And if the secession had been permitted, Upper Township's school taxes would have risen nearly 20 percent, while Strathmere's would fall 40 percent to 50 percent. (Upper Township has no municipal tax, courtesy of the B.L. England Generating Station and the township's reliance on State Police rather than paying for its own police).
Upper Township turned down Strathmere's request to secede, and Strathmere appealed to the courts. Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong ruled that the township's decision was "neither arbitrary nor unreasonable." The township had documented the pros and cons of the secession, and concluded that it would have a negative effect on the township.
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In making her ruling, Armstrong noted the case was remarkably similar to one a few years back, when Avalon Manor unsuccessfully attempted to secede from Middle Township and become part of Avalon.
In another similar case, Diamond Beach attempted to secede from Lower Township although the lawsuit was dropped when the township agreed to beef up police and fire services in Diamond Beach.
That's what should have happened here. Upper Township, now that it has won the legal case, needs to consider the legitimate complaints Strathmere residents raised and whether Upper can give Strathmere better service for its hefty tax bill. In particular, the township ought to consider whether it should have its own police presence, particularly in the summer.
Meanwhile, any other communities in similar circumstances should take note: It's not easy to secede.