Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Citizens For Strathmere/Whale Beach 8/18 - Press release

This is a copy of the Press Release from The Citizens of Strathmere & Whale Beach meeting, which took place on 8/18/07
Strathmere’s Wake-up Call
August 18, 2007
Strathmere, New Jersey

Earlier this year, in our storied firehouse, the people of Strathmere gave our board, by unanimous vote, a historic mandate to seek de-annexation from Upper Township.
A quick recap is required.
The State of New Jersey maintains a misguided formula for funding its multitudes of public school systems. The formula of basing the taxation required to fund our schools on local property values has the unintended consequence of under funding school districts in disadvantaged communities while destroying the foundation of thriving communities such as ours. And by “ours,” we don’t mean Strathmere’s, exclusively, but Upper Township’s collectively. For it is the formula of the state which set in motion the process that required the Township of Upper to hire an incompetent vendor to reassess our properties and turn our quiet community into an angry and determined and rebellious force with which to be reckoned.
This re-evaluation, and the catastrophic tax hikes that ensued, was a wake-up call for the residents and property owners of Strathmere. It should and still can be a wake-up call for the collective Township of Upper. The destructive change in taxation made many of us realize that this is a symptom of a more insidious disease.
Sadly, our elected officials are not yet so enlightened. Instead of seeking solutions for the greater good, our arrogant political leaders have shrugged off our problems with patronizing commentary. “If you can’t afford it, sell it,” they sneer.
Not long ago, again in the firehouse, our state representatives told us there was nothing they could do. “We tried,” they insisted. And they tell us it’s our fault – the people’s fault - that the system can’t change. Because special interests that represent local school employees shouted them down at public meeting. This is not leadership for the greater good; it’s cowardly self-preservation for political gain.
And instead of recognizing the problems of Strathmere as common problems afflicting Upper Township itself, our local officials have dismissed their township neighbors as “greedy” and “insatiable.”
“It seems the more we do for them, the more they want,” is the way our Mayor describes us.
As the Ecuadorian essayist Juan Montalvo said, “There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference.” This indifference has been Strathmere’s wake-up call.
We’ve woken up to the fact that the folks who control the real quality of life of our beach community seem to care little about the quality of community. We’ve woken up to the fact that along the bay and along the beach, our homes border what is ostensibly the largest public park in Upper Township. But our park has virtually no police protection, virtually no maintenance of infrastructure, and virtually any public facilities for sanitation or recreation.
How long would the Upper Township Committee tolerate a mainland park that was the site of nightly illegal fireworks displays that endanger those who set them off as well as the tinderbox homes around them; excessive underage drinking; and serial vandalism?
This indifference is our wake-up call.
If mainland, park side homeowners were assured meaningful discounts on their insurance if only the public parks were maintained to certain standards, would there be a question about such park management on the mainland? The lack of beach management – no, the lack of understanding that proper beach management is a township issue and not a Strathmere issue – is a clarion wake-up call.
If a public works official planted a stop sign in a deep lake, dangerously past the end of the main road of a mainland park, how long would it remain there? (Have you been to Strathmere’s Upper Township-maintained public boat launch lately to see this exact scenario? It’s a wake-up call.)
Our barrier-island town floods a lot. Duh. But the drainage and infrastructure solutions that would help alleviate the dangers to property owners are too often left to the property owners themselves to implement. That’s a wake-up call.
When the State of New Jersey began to pocket a portion of Upper Township’s tax revenue generated by B. L. England’s Beesley Point power plant, Upper Township sat by and let it happen. Even after the Supreme Court said it was an illegal act. While other townships up and down the state fought Trenton to get back what was rightfully theirs, Upper Township made plans to make up the shortfall by taxing it’s residents. Wake up call.
And one day a week this summer, we are protected by just a few hours of patrol by a single off-duty policeman. He is paid by our own contributions to the Strathmere Volunteer Fire Company. We get a few hours of a policeman’s time by paying out of our own pockets! That’s gotta be a wake-up call.
There are many such wake-up calls sounding across town as friends and neighbors sit over a beer and vent volcanic frustrations that have been stoked by the madness of our tax hikes.

So this is our response:
Thanks to the marching orders of our membership, we have collected signatures of locally registered voters on a petition that asks Upper Township to allow us to de-annex and seek partnership and solutions from a beach community that will offer the health and safety benefits that comes with more complete cultural compatibility. We’re happy to report that a whopping majority of registered voters – far greater than the required 60% - have put pen to paper and signed their own names to the cause. That’s a profound and courageous response to our wake-up calls.
We have invested the dues and contributions our members have generously offered in the hiring of expert and feisty legal counsel who will help us clarify and justify our request for de-annexation to Upper Township.
Now we seek our members’ personal involvement. Our next step will be to present Upper Township with our petition. At that time our local leaders will have 45 days to schedule a hearing before the Upper Township Planning Board. It will be up to us to showcase our differences, bring to life our grievances and prove our case.
We have faith in our counsel to guide us through this hearing, but we need the property owners themselves to help us highlight the issues that affect the quality of daily life here in Strathmere.
The proof of our case will come from categories that include, but are not limited to, beach management (or lack thereof); the maintenance of infrastructure (or lack thereof); sanitation concerns; public safety issues, the concerns of senior citizens and Strathmere’s dramatic cultural incompatibility with the Township of Upper.
The hearing may well take many hours, over a few days, perhaps across a couple months. We may be inconvenienced for a fair period of time, so we will keep our eyes on the prize, and gear up for a great ride.
What’s important to understand is that we are due a fair hearing by our Planning Board. It is the responsibility and legal duty of our Township Committee to come to that hearing with an open mind and welcome the fair and honest assessment of our township planning board. However, when you listen to our own representatives, and read their quotes in the newspapers, it’s easy to believe that an open mind is the last thing they’ll bring to the hearing.
Our own government has decided to spend the people’s money to engage counsel to defend the state’s broken system against their own people. We wish our representatives would invest the people’s money instead on helping to turn the state’s flawed system around for the greater good, but our government has chosen to defend a destructive formula, foisted upon all us by cynics in Trenton.
The Upper Township Committee has made the wrong choice and we hope they might still reconsider.
The prudent and moral high road for Upper Township to take is to allow Strathmere to seek self-determination elsewhere and concentrate on making things right for the greater good. We implore Upper Township to build for the future rather than continue this destructive course of action.
The prejudicial decision that our government has come to, long before our hearing, is unfair and cynical at best and perhaps unconstitutional and illegal at worst.
But no matter the choice of our officials in Upper Township, our beef is with the system that leaves little choice beyond pitting neighbor against neighbor. Our complaints are not personal. The folks who will fight to keep us land-locked are not bad people; they are as much victims of New Jersey’s greater failure as we are. We will not make this a clash of neighbors, and we will not tolerate inappropriate personal volleys across Ludham Bay.
We wear the commitment this community has made as a badge of honor, and ask others to join us in our mandated march for freedom and self-determination. It will not be easy; some say it’s not even probable. But truth, crushed to earth, will always rise again, so to the pessimists we say, au contraire. We’ve done harder things in our lives to get this far. And we know there is nothing harder than the softness of indifference.

Together, we take heart from the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, who reminds us that, “The moral arc of the universe may be long, but it bends toward justice.”

- Citizens For Strathmere and Whale Beach

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