"It's not the decision we would have wanted," says Ed Tettemer, 57, a board member. "But we're not dismayed."
The marketing guru and his wife, Lyn, an accounting manager, share a stunning octagonal summer house in the heart of the mile-long, two-block-wide stretch of Ludlam Island that is Strathmere.
"We knew we were headed for the New Jersey Supreme Court," Tettemer says. "We hope they will hear our case."
Though triggered by a property reassessment in the mid-2000s, the dispute is about more than money. It's about whether Upper Township has the expertise and commitment required to replenish Strathmere's beaches and protect the fragile island town from tidal damage. And it's about character, identity, and a growing, if one-sided, sense of incompatibility between longtime partners.
Upper Township purchased the sandy hamlet from Sea Isle City for less than $1,000 in 1905, when Strathmere was home to about a dozen souls. It now has about 80 year-round residents and an additional 200 or so seasonal residents. About 90 percent of registered voters support de-annexation, according to court documents.
I have always thought Strathmere looked and felt different from most Shore towns.
The streets are a low-key mix of modest cottages, '60s ranchers, and newer, larger residences, and the vibe is just loose enough.
The wall-to-wall duplexes of other Shore towns are, thankfully, nowhere to be found. The town's few commercial enterprises include a single motel and just two bars.
And with light reflecting off the ocean and bay, the town offers a sense of spaciousness. Perhaps a bit of peace and quiet, too.
Longtime Stathmerians I talk to, including Citizens board president George Welker and members Randy Roash and Herb Hollinger, believe de-annexation makes sense from practical, geographic, and cultural standpoints.
Not so, says Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo.
At 65 square miles, the township encompasses wetlands, forests, and a half-dozen villages with names like Marmora, Seaville, and Tuckahoe. (Strathmere, by contrast, is less than a square mile.)
The township has long delivered services to diverse, distant communities, says Palombo, who also is a member of its planning board.
"Is there a difference between island needs and mainland needs? Absolutely. But I don't feel we're not prepared to meet the circumstances," says Palombo, 56. He grew up in North Wildwood, which is also on a barrier island.
"Strathmere is unique, and we have tried to keep it unique," the mayor adds. "But it's a very integral part of the township."
I'll say. De-annexation would mean a loss of $20 million in annual tax revenue and could boost a typical property tax bill by $700 annually.
The fight to retain Strathmere has cost the township $400,000, according to the mayor. The Citizens group has financed its somewhat less costly legal battle through donations and an annual auction.
Ella Diamond, who has owned a summer home in Strathmere since 1985, says the biggest challenge "has been raising funds to keep the effort alive." That might surprise those who perceive Strathmere as a cash cow inhabited by "crybaby millionaires" from out of town, Diamond says.
"Should we not get what we're entitled to [in the way of services] because we worked hard enough to be able to afford the American dream of a vacation home?" she asks.
"Entrepreneurial" and "individualistic" are better descriptions of the town's citizens, says Herb Hollinger, a member of Strathmere's volunteer fire company who has summered in the community for a half-century. "The culture here is that we do things ourselves," he says. "To get anything done, to save the town, people had to come together."
"The alternative," Tettemer observes, "is to give up."
Strathmere doesn't seem ready to do that, and I applaud the Citizens, and the citizens. I hope they win.
Citizens of Strathmere talk about their beloved town:
Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.