EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When black ice coated the porch early one March, Joe Stewart’s wife slipped while getting the morning newspaper. He called 911 and, within minutes, an ambulance arrived at their home in Seaview Harbor, a tiny community on a Shore causeway.

Out popped the mayor of Longport, Nick Russo.

“I call 911 and the next thing I know, the mayor of Longport comes over in the emergency ambulance truck and renders aid,” said Stewart.

The mayoral treatment — Russo is trained in emergency medical services — only crystalized the every-day contradictions felt by residents of Seaview, a marina community just up and over a bridge and causeway leading to Longport, the affluent Shore community at the end of Absecon Island.

Seaview Harbor is technically part of Egg Harbor Township, but residents want to be part of desirable Longport. Who wouldn’t?

Seaview Harbor and the Seaview Harbor Marina as seen from an aerial photograph provided by Joe Stewart. The residents of Seaview pay taxes to Egg Harbor Township, yet Longport borough and Margate offer them emergency services, among other assistance.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Seaview Harbor and the Seaview Harbor Marina as seen from an aerial photograph provided by Joe Stewart. The residents of Seaview pay taxes to Egg Harbor Township, yet Longport borough and Margate offer them emergency services, among other assistance.

Longport already provides emergency services, underscoring the inescapable geographic reality: Seaview Harbor is much closer to Longport than any part of sprawling Egg Harbor Township.

Residents like Stewart say they feel much more a part of Longport than they do of Egg Harbor Township.

“My driver’s license, my insurance, my mail ... everything has a Longport address,” Stewart said.

And those Egg Harbor taxes, perhaps the single driver of a secession movement that has been around for approaching five years. Now, though, residents have successfully petitioned to leave the township and have a trial date July 8 before Atlantic County Judge Julio Mendez.

Since March 2014, the Egg Harbor Township Planning Board has held 32 hearings on the proposed de-annexation of Seaview Harbor from Egg Harbor Township, according to Seaview Harbor attorney John Paul Doyle.

The lack of services provided by the township, steep tax rates, and the fact that the community isn’t even contiguous with Egg Harbor Township are among the reasons the the 99-home neighborhood and harbor of Seaview want to leave and join neighboring Longport.

Seaview resident and executive director of Seaview Harbor Marina, Joe Stewart, talks about why Seaview Harbor is petitioning to secede from Egg Harbor Township and join Longport borough.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Seaview resident and executive director of Seaview Harbor Marina, Joe Stewart, talks about why Seaview Harbor is petitioning to secede from Egg Harbor Township and join Longport borough.

The coastal community of Seaview Harbor consists of a boat club, marina, and affluent residential neighborhood. The estimated median household income for Seaview is $84,671, compared to Egg Harbor Township’s $70,875. Longport’s is $106,719.

If Seaview secedes, its residents stand to gain from a lower tax rate in Longport (though their properties could also end up being reassessed to Longport standards).

Township Administrator Pete Miller said that if Seaview Harbor secedes, those residents will see a decrease in annual taxes from around $25,000 to $10,000. Egg Harbor Township residents pay nearly $3 for every $100 in value assessed, as opposed to Longport’s 98 cents per $100 assessment.

So the petition to secede has fiscal implications for Egg Harbor Township.

By Egg Harbor’s own account, if Seaview Harbor leaves, the township would lose $505,000 in annual revenue and the school district would lose $1,841,466, which is less than 1% of Egg Harbor’s $140.9 million school budget for 2018-2019. Seaview’s tax dollars would subsequently go to Longport, if absorbed by the borough.

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The quest to join Longport is a long-running one.

In 2014, the citizen’s group Seaview Harbor Realignment Committee filed a petition with Egg Harbor Township, seeking permission to leave the municipality and request annexation by Longport borough. In November 2016, the Egg Harbor Township Committee denied the petition and Seaview Harbor went to court.

In May, Mendez allowed the petition to stand. He will now hear arguments from both parties before deciding if Seaview can continue its move toward de-annexation or be forced to stay within Egg Harbor Township.

State law provides that land may be annexed to another municipality as long as it’s contiguous. Although Seaview Harbor is technically part of Egg Harbor, it is separated from the township by the five square miles of Somers Point. Longport, by contrast, is connected to Seaview Harbor by less than a mile via JFK Memorial Bridge.

Standing on the docks of Seaview Harbor Marina, one can see the coast of Longport across the thoroughfare the two beach towns share as a border. Egg Harbor Township, a mainland suburb, differs from the two beach communities in size and atmosphere and has a more racially and economically diverse population.

The borough of Longport can be seen from just across the waterway from Seaview Harbor Marina, in Seaview Harbor. Seaview Harbor is petitioning to secede from Egg Harbor Township and join Longport.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
The borough of Longport can be seen from just across the waterway from Seaview Harbor Marina, in Seaview Harbor. Seaview Harbor is petitioning to secede from Egg Harbor Township and join Longport.

Stewart and other residents say that for the taxes they pay to the township, they don’t receive the benefits of their contributions. Seaview has few year-round residents and fewer school-age children yet its taxpayers are footing the bill for a school district that they don’t use, Stewart said.

“The municipal tax is pretty reasonable, the rest of it’s where it gets pretty expensive,” he said. “We haven’t sent kids to school here for over a decade, and even if they wanted to go to school [in Egg Harbor], the busing situation would be a little difficult because they’d be on that bus for probably an hour and a half each way."

Longport has no schools and sends its students elsewhere. Russo said there are fewer than 100 students in the borough, which pays tuition for them to attend school in Margate, Atlantic City, or Ocean City. In Egg Harbor Township, 64 percent of the taxes go to the district.

Russo said he can see the benefits for Seaview in joining Longport and understands why residents there want to join the borough.

“I understand their argument, I understand their reasoning,” he said. “I think the prudent thing to do as an elected official is — since this is such a major consideration — to let the voters decide, if it gets to that point.”

To join Longport, Seaview Harbor would need the borough’s approval, which the mayor would seek in a voter referendum.

Some in town see merit to the idea.

Inside Ozzies, Longport’s only breakfast place, on a recent morning, Longport resident Kirsten Kuhn said she would welcome the annexation.

“They’re kind of an island to themselves over there,” Kuhn said over a Greek omelette as she sat across from her father. “They have no attachment to EHT. They’re more connected to Longport. There’s that bridge in between, but it just seems more of a connection.”

Others worry about Seaview’s effect on borough-wide assessments, and debate whether the added liabilities are worth the additional tax dollars.

Stewart and other residents of Seaview Harbor, for their part, are optimistic and hope the township can understand their reasoning.

“Egg Harbor Township, although it has other places that have water, we’re not contiguous with them,” Stewart said. “We go to their churches in Longport, we go to their beaches and buy beach tags. We keep their Longport emergency boat here during the summer.”

“Egg Harbor, I got nothing bad to say about the township,” he added, “I just don’t feel a part of the township, I feel more a part of Longport.”