Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mainland residents want to keep Strathmere in Upper Twp.

Mainland residents want to keep Strathmere in Upper Twp.
By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, 609-463-6712

Published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

UPPER TOWNSHIP - Mayor Richard Palombo visited Strathmere on Tuesday to examine the storm-damaged north end.

When he returned to his car, he found that someone had affixed a familiar black-and-white oval bumper sticker to the back of his Acura. It was the kind of sticker that identifies hometowns with acronyms such as "OC" or "LBI."
This one said "DNX."
"I can't catch a break with this," Palombo said, ripping the sticker off his car.
The Planning Board, on which the mayor serves, held a public hearing Tuesday on Strathmere's bid to de-annex from the mainland township to join Sea Isle City.
The board has hosted more than 30 hours of meetings on the secession bid since February. But the public hearing Tuesday proved anti-climactic.

The meeting only attracted a few dozen people at Township Hall. Fewer in the crowd opted to speak, and many of them were Strathmere residents whose opinions on the topic are known.

"By joining Sea Isle, it will help us be better managed as a beach community. The disconnect is so obvious right now," Strathmere resident Greg Bennett said.

"The issue is whether the needs of Strathmere will be better served by a town of common interests," Strathmere property owner John Edinger Jr. said. "We want to have a government that shares our interests and puts our interests in priority."

Strathmere is one of at least 11 unique hamlets in Upper Township. But this section of Upper has dominated discussion among the Township Committee in the past year, largely because of coastal erosion on the island. The township is gearing up for a $3 million beach fill this winter.

Strathmere's bid to secede is not the first in Cape May County. Avalon Manor lost a court battle to leave Middle Township. Diamond Beach south of Wildwood Crest threatened to leave before Lower Township made concessions to its island community.

New Jersey courts have not looked kindly on tax-shopping, in which neighborhoods try to join other communities with lower tax rates. So the civic group's case hinges on establishing a pattern of neglect by township officials.

Mainland residents outlined a variety of reasons why the board should deny the petition.

The township's auditor estimated this year that school taxes in Upper would climb 21 percent if Strathmere left. Meanwhile, property taxes in Strathmere and Sea Isle City would drop.

"I would hate to see us lose Strathmere," Seaville resident Gina Macom said. "We've already had a lot of budgeting problems in the schools. I'd hate to see more if we lost Strathmere."

Stephen Martinelli, of Petersburg, said Strathmere's beaches are as important to mainland residents as islanders.

"When I was 5 years old, I learned how to swim in the back bays of Strathmere," Martinelli said. "Beaches in Strathmere are a valuable natural resource. To lose them to Sea Isle would adversely affect all Upper Township residents."

He noted that Sea Isle City, unlike Strathmere, charges for beach tags and parking.

"I've never bought a beach tag in my life," he said.

He said the board should not let the latest flooding crisis in Strathmere influence its decision. Martinelli said Strathmere residents have only themselves to blame for building on the flood-prone island.

The board will make a non-binding recommendation to the Township Committee.

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