Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Upper says Strathmere secession bid baffling

Upper says Strathmere secession bid baffling
From The Press of Atlantic City

By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6712
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2007

UPPER TOWNSHIP — Township officials on Monday said they were surprised and a little baffled about a move by some Strathmere residents to split from this rural township.
A group formerly known as the Strathmere Taxpayers Association is pursuing de-annexation from the township. Because average property values are much higher in Strathmere than the rest of the 64-square-mile township, island residents pay substantially higher property taxes to the Board of Education and Cape May County than their mainland counterparts.
The township has no local purpose tax.
“Island versus mainland, that's not the attitude I have,” Committeeman Jay Newman said. “Strathmere is part of Upper Township.”
Newman said he vehemently disagreed with Strathmere resident Randy Roash's public assertion that merging with another barrier island would improve public safety and emergency management on the island.

“I was kind of disappointed with that quote,” Newman said. “We've done the best we can with everything.”
To begin the process, at least 60 percent of Strathmere residents would have to sign a petition asking the township to de-annex, according to the state Department of Community Affairs.
Then, Upper Township and the town that Strathmere would join — presumably Sea Isle City, although that has not been determined — would have to give consent.
One aspect of the split would be somewhat easier: how to apportion the township's bonded debt, since Upper Township has none. It pays everything in cash. Township officials on Monday made it clear they would not part company with Strathmere willingly. “I was hoping this could be worked out amicably. I still think it can be,” Mayor Richard Palombo said.
All five committee members live on the mainland. Few Strathmere residents run for public office and fewer still win election. Roash, who serves on the Board of Education, is an exception.
Committee members Frank Conrad and Barbara Camp, the former township clerk, said she has not perceived any rift between residents in Strathmere and the rest of the township. Committee members conceded that many Strathmere residents were hugely dissatisfied with the last revaluation that saw assessments on the island more than quadruple in some cases.
Strathmere's efforts to secede face tall odds without support from the governing body. Similar efforts in Cape May County have failed after costly and prolonged court battles. The most recent example is Avalon Manor and its failed bid to split from Middle Township.
This is not the first time residents in the tiny hamlet of Strathmere have given warnings about secession. But it could be the first time they follow through with them.
During the public meeting Monday, Committeeman Curtis Corson Jr. made a Revolutionary War quip about “a tea party in Strathmere.”

But if Strathmere residents have their way, Upper Township could be in for a civil war.

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