Oral arguments will start late next month in Seaview Harbor’s attempt to leave Egg Harbor Township and become part of Longport.
Judge Julio Mendez will begin hearing the case 9 a.m. May 28, according to his office.
Seaview Harbor is located off Route 152, the causeway that connects the mainland to Longport on Absecon Island.
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.
But the township is fighting to keep the 92-home neighborhood worth more than $100 million within its borders, arguing the services to it are the same, with the exception of emergency services, which come from Longport.
The trial will focus on transcripts and exhibits that were used during township hearings and deliberations, said the lawyer for the Seaview Harbor group, John Paul Doyle, of Toms River.
Township Committee voted not to allow Seaview Harbor to leave.
About a decade ago, Doyle represented a group of homeowners in Toms River who succeeded in de-annexing from Toms River and joining Lavallette.
“There have been very few cases in general ... I’m not aware of more than maybe half a dozen cases,” said Doyle. “Every case is decided on its own unique merits.”
Critics of the proposed move say the residents of Seaview Harbor are simply seeking lower property taxes.
It is unknown whether Longport wants to incorporate the neighborhood.
Longport Mayor Nick Russo said he would like to put the question to residents through a referendum, if the court allows Seaview Harbor to exit Egg Harbor Township.
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Former EHT Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough lived in Seaview Harbor for many years before moving to Atlantic City after his recent retirement from politics. He 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.
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 there will likely drop precipitously. The average home, if part of Longport, would pay just less than $7,700 in property taxes, residents have said.
Longport, with very few children and no school system of its own, has the county’s lowest school taxes at just $0.066 per $100 of assessed value. Its total property-tax rate is also low at $0.98 per $100 of assessed value.
Egg Harbor Township, on the other hand, was designated a Pinelands Growth Zone and absorbed thousands of new housing units during the peak casino growth time from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Many people who moved there had families, and the school population exploded, as did the need to build schools. Consequently it has one of the highest school tax rates in the county at $2.016 per $100 of assessed value, and a total tax rate of $3.142 per $100 of assessed value.
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While it is physically close to Longport, and separated from much of the rest of the township by the mainland community of Somers Point, Seaview Harbor isn’t the only section of the township closer to Absecon Island than to the township Municipal Building on Bargaintown Road.
The West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township sits between Atlantic City and Pleasantville on the Black Horse Pike; land off the Margate causeway, between Margate and Northfield, is part of the township; and “Dog Beach,” part of the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area on Ocean Drive between Longport and Ocean City, is in Egg Harbor Township.
Other local communities have not been allowed to change their municipal affiliation over the past 25 years.
The Diamond Beach section of Lower Township was kept from joining Wildwood Crest in the early 1990s; the 150-home Avalon Manor section of Middle Township was not permitted to join Avalon in 2004; and Upper Township’s Strathmere section was prevented from joining Sea Isle City in 2010.