Strathmere homeowners who have been trying to break away from the rest of Upper Township were dealt another defeat on Aug. 1, when the state Appellate Division ruled against their secession attempt, upholding a previous Superior Court decision.
Known as an affluent shore hamlet with a bit of an edge, Strathmere prides itself on its quirky traditions - such as the Nightmare in Strathmere boat parade - and residents sometimes see themselves as survivors who have had to stick together when everyone else, including Mother Nature, is against them. It is also a town that saw its property values skyrocket as the price of shore properties outpaced mainland homes. With those higher values came higher taxes, all the more so because there aren't that many million-dollar-plus homes in the rest of Upper Township.
The group heading the effort to secede from Upper Township and join Sea Isle City, Citizens for Strathmere and Whale Beach, had accused mainland officials of benign neglect. Towns on the outskirts of any municipality - or separated, as Strathmere is, by a body of water - always feel that they are not getting enough attention. But it was clear that this fight was more about taxation than representation.
Upper Township's government has been responsive to Strathmere concerns, aggressively pursuing (and helping to fund) beach replenishment projects that benefit all Strathmere residents, for instance.
The bar on secession is set high for a reason. It shouldn't be easy for wealthy parts of a community to break away from their more modest neighbors, increasing economic disparities. State law requires that sections of a community seeking de-annexation have to show that the move would not hurt the rest of the community. Losing Strathmere would have cost Upper Township nearly $400 million in ratables - almost 18 percent of the township's ratable base - and decimated the municipal and school budgets. It would also change the character of the township, taking away its link to the shore.
Avalon Manor lost similar court cases in 2003 and 2004 in a bid to secede from Middle Township. The state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that case.
And rather than appeal the latest ruling to the Supreme Court - and sink still more legal fees into a lost cause - Strathmere residents should turn their efforts inward and try to make a difference as members of the greater Upper Township community.
Only one Strathmere resident has made an election bid for a committee seat in recent years. It would seem time to renew those efforts. Residents can also attend Township Committee meetings, serve on local boards and try to work with officials to bring more services to their area or to trim local budgets.
And Strathmere homeowners, many of whom are successful business people, could help in efforts to bring more ratables to the township, which would lower everyone's tax bill.