BERKELEY – After five years of testimony, the Planning Board made a recommendation to the township that South Seaside Park should not de-annex (secede) from the township.
South Seaside Park (SSP) is located between Island Beach State Park and Seaside Park. Residents have claimed that they have more in common with these beachfront communities than the rest of the town. They have also noted that they pay more in taxes for what they have said is less services.
In a unanimous 7-0 vote, the Planning Board recommended to the Township Council that SSP should stay. Planning Board attorney Gregory McGuckin said he will draw up a resolution to that effect and then the council will have to act on it.
After half a decade, the decision was not much of a surprise. Mainland Berkeley residents would see an increase in taxes if SSP left. One study said that it would raise taxes about 8.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The example given was that the average homeowner would pay $156 more a year.
And indeed, it is expected that the Township Council will follow the Planning Board’s recommendation and not let them leave.
And it’s expected to wind up in Superior Court. Two planners who had been retained by the township all this time had their contracts extended during this meeting, proof that the town does not expect this to end.
In fact, the attorney for the South Seaside Park Homeowners and Voters Association, Joseph Michelini, has been building a case for the courts. He said after the vote that neither side will be able to present evidence to the court. The court will read the transcripts from those five years to make their decision.
“We knew from the beginning the town would be against losing 10 percent of their tax base,” he said.
In order for the Planning Board to let SSP go, two conditions had to be met by state statute, said McGuckin, the attorney. One was that SSP had to prove that it would be detrimental to them to stay. The other was that SSP had to prove that it wouldn’t be detrimental to the rest of Berkeley if they left.
Planning Board Chairman Robert Winward said that SSP did not prove that Berkeley residents wouldn’t be hurt by their leaving.
He was the only member of the board who noted that SSP did prove that they were inconvenienced by remaining with Berkeley. However, he noted that every neighborhood in town has its issues.
“I don’t think any township is perfect,” he said. “It’s not that South Seaside Park got singled out or slighted.” He said the points that the residents made has created a conversation where township officials can learn to help solve their problems in other ways, rather than de-annexation.
Councilman John Bacchione is a voting member of the Planning Board. He worried that since SSP residents are higher earners than mainland, that losing them would bring down the average income of the town. Businesses look at average income when deciding where to set up shop.
Although $156 a year might not seem like a lot to some people, it would be a lot to seniors on fixed incomes, he said.
Planning Board member Brian Gingrich said if they don’t like where they live, they should move. Or, they should have done their due diligence before moving there.
“You have chosen where you wanted to live,” he said.
Planning Board member Nick Mackres had pages of statements to read, criticizing a lot of the arguments that SSP had over the years. He said that if they wanted more services, a special assessment could tax them to feed that.
He worried about a “death spiral” that would happen as mainland taxes went up, and property values went down.
He said the petitioners are “shirking their duties as Americans” to not pay their fair share to their town and their schools. He called the de-annexation a way for the rich to get richer.
“I’m ashamed and disgusted to have heard this (testimony) for the last five years,” he said.
His comments didn’t sit well with the few SSP residents in attendance.
“It was totally inappropriate,” said SSP resident Bobby Ring.
The Constitution gives people the right to petition their government for redress through this manner, and it was completely wrong for him to insult people like that, Ring said.
Don Whiteman, the SSP resident who spearheaded the de-annexation movement, said the 7-0 vote was the same as it was decades ago when his father tried the exact same thing.
His father had to bring it to the court as well, and the court sided with him. However, SSP wound up coming back to Berkeley.
If South Seaside Park left, they would not form their own town. They would join another. Seaside Park is the only one that shares a border, so that is the likely choice. Seaside Park officials have, by law, stayed out of these discussions.