EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Judge Julio Mendez is expected to rule soon on whether the Seaview Harbor community off the Longport causeway may cut its ties with the township and seek to join Longport.
The 92-home community between Somers Point and Longport, valued at $100 million, would also need Longport’s consent to change affiliation, however.
Longport Mayor Nick Russo has said he will put the question to voters via referendum. That would likely happen in 2020, he said.
“If they want to sell it to Longport, they have to stress the benefits (to Longport),” said Russo, adding his town has not done any fiscal analysis, since the judge hasn’t yet rendered an opinion. “In my personal opinion I think it would be good for Longport, because of the value added to the city.”
But township attorney Marc Friedman said Monday whoever loses in the case is likely to file an appeal, which would stop further movement in the case for an estimated 18 months.
In addition to the homes, the Seaview Marina would also become part of Longport, he said.
“It’s the only direct oceanfront marina in the state,” Russo said. “That should be an attraction.”
People who live in Seaview Harbor say it makes no sense for their community to remain part of Egg Harbor Township.
Its mailing addresses says Longport, drivers’ licenses for full-time residents say Longport, and emergency services are already provided by Longport.
“There is nothing wrong with Egg Harbor Township,” said 31-year resident Lolly McLaughlin, who supports affiliating with Longport. “It’s just too far.”
When she and her husband bought their lot, they assumed it was part of Longport, she said. Her house is just one mile from the municipal building in Longport, but more than seven miles from the one on Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township.
She has to drive through Somers Point or Linwood to get to Egg Harbor Township, and rarely goes there. She does most of her shopping in Somers Point and on Absecon Island, McLaughlin said.
“It’s one of those things where you are relating to where you live and close proximity to where you live,” McLaughlin said. “We are not doing it for the taxes.”
But there is no doubt property taxes on her large waterfront home, that overlooks the Longport skyline, would go down substantially if it were taxed in Longport — which has few children and no schools — rather than the township.
Longport’s total tax rate in 2018 was $0.984, while Egg Harbor Township’s was $3.142.
McLaughlin pays more than $36,000 a year in property taxes, she said.
Seaview Harbor is full of large, expensive homes on the bay or man-made lagoons. It generates millions per year in tax receipts for the township. After a revaluation in 2012, the average home there paid a property-tax bill of about $24,000 a year.
If the neighborhood is allowed to leave, the average property bill will likely drop precipitously. The average home, if part of Longport, would pay just less than $7,700 in property taxes, residents have said.
McLaughlin’s neighbor Jackie Norris said it’s always Longport police and fire who respond in an emergency. When she accidentally left her front door open, and someone reported it to 911, it was Longport police who drove over to make sure everything was OK, Norris said.
Russo said the Longport Volunteer Fire Department is often the first to get there, but when Egg Harbor Township fire trucks arrive they are in charge of the fire scene. Longport police respond to 911 calls but do not routinely patrol there, Russo said.
He said Longport supplies ambulance service, since it is so much closer.
Norris, who moved there in 2017, said she is concerned about taxes because it’s more difficult to sell homes when buyers see the tax bills.
“When we moved in we paid $665,000, but our taxes were $28,000 a year,” she said.
She was successful in getting them reduced to $21,000, based on the sales price.
She estimated her tax bill would fall to about $10,000 a year in Longport.
“And Longport has a prestigious name,” Norris said. She said she believes there is only one child going to township schools from Seaview Harbor.
Egg Harbor Township is fighting to keep the high value community within its borders, arguing the services it provides to it are the same as it provides elsewhere in the township, with the exception of emergency services.
The Seaview Harbor Community Club filed the petition to leave the township and join Longport in 2014, saying its members do not feel part of the township and claiming township services are lesser there because of its location.
However, former township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough lived in Seaview Harbor for decades, and the township has argued strenuously that services there never suffered.
McCullough moved to Atlantic City last year, and his house was demolished this summer, along with a house next door, after both were bought by a neighbor who plans to build a dream home on the two lots.
McCullough has said he moved to escape $34,000 per year in property taxes on his waterfront home. He recused himself from decisions regarding the petition.