By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
LONGPORT – The Appellate Division of the NJ Supreme Court Dec. 29 affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Egg Harbor Township did not act unreasonably when it refused to consent to Seaview Harbor’s bid to secede and join up with Longport. The court agreed that the deannexation would cause the loss of social and economic diversity in the township and government affairs, according to a township release issued Dec. 30.
Egg Harbor Township Mayor Paul Hodson said he was “extremely pleased” with the outcome and that the judicial system worked as it should. He called the outcome “fair and just” for all township residents.
Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo said he did not think the residents of Seaview Harbor would be able to get past the first hurdle – getting permission to leave the township.
“Like I said from the beginning, Longport was not the engine driving this train,” he said. “I didn’t think they would get traction out of the first phase of the process.”
Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez denied a realignment request from property owners in Seaview Harbor, a 1960s-era subdivision in Egg Harbor Township, to secede from the township and join Longport Borough where their taxes would be much lower than they are now.
On Feb. 18, 2020, Mendez reaffirmed Egg Harbor Township’s decision to prevent the de-annexation following more than 30 public hearings at the Planning Board and Township Committee levels over a two-year period that included more than 100 hours of testimony from 54 witnesses. The Planning Board recommended the township deny the petition and the Township Committee followed suit.
The plaintiffs, Seaview Harbor Realignment Committee, LLC, and Egg Harbor Township residents John and Dian Dabek, Edward and Virginia McGlinchey, and Pam and Joseph Stewart filed their appeal of the township’s October 2016 resolution that determined their secession petition did not comply with statutory requirements outlined in New Jersey administrative law.
After Mendez ruled for the township, homeowners filed an appeal with the Appellate Court, which issued a 48-page opinion Wednesday affirming Mendez’s and the township’s opinions on the matter.
According to the release, the township conducted a revaluation of all properties in 2013, and shortly thereafter the homeowner’s group filed a petition with the township to secede and join Longport Borough. After 2 ½ years over 30 public hearings, the Egg Harbor Township Planning Board recommended, and the Township Committee agreed that the petition should be denied, based on the well-being of the rest of the township.
The evidence showed the township would perpetually suffer the loss of approximately $2.3 million in tax revenue, which would cause a decrease in municipal and educational services, programs and labor force, the statement said.
According to township auditor Leon Costello, the loss of ratables would result in a 5.9 cent tax rate increased based on Egg Harbor Township’s 2015 assessments.
According to the 2018 tax rates for each community, a $1 million home in Longport pays a total of $9,800 in taxes, while a $1 million home in Egg Harbor Township pays $31,400 in taxes.
Russo said Longport would continue to provide emergency services, including fire and ambulance coverage.
“We will continue to be their first responders as needed,” Russo said.
The borough does not receive any compensation from Egg Harbor Township for providing emergency services, Russo said.
“Our Fire Department does not have a billing service and relies on donations and fund raisers. Of course, the borough does the heavy lift on items needed to keep the department running efficiently,” he said.
In a transcript of a radio interview, former Egg Harbor Township Mayor Sonny McCullough said the township may have spent as much as $400,000 to defend the case.
If the case were decided in favor of the residents, “it would have cost the taxpayers of Longport $4 million to repay the long-term debt that was owed to EHT and would have cost EHT a great deal in lost taxes,” he said.
McCullough, who lived in Seaview Harbor for many years said he paid $34,000 a year in taxes, but he also pleaded with his neighbors to not file the lawsuit.
Mendez’s decision upheld the 1982 Annexation Statute, which supports the legislature’s effort to preserve municipal boundaries and imposes a “heavier burden” on those seeking deannexation.
Seaview Harbor includes 92 waterfront homes with docks, a restaurant and marina with 300 boat slips with a combined assessed valuation of about $100 million.
“It’s a beautiful community with the marina, restaurant and grounds,” Russo said. “Longport residents will continue to use it to keep their boats there and patronize the restaurant.”
There is no word at this time if the residents will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
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