ORTLEY BEACH, NJ – The towns of Ortley Beach and Lavallette have more to do with each other than they do with the large growing city of Toms River, just across the Barnegat Bay. Two years ago, there was a movement afoot by residents in Ortley Beach to secede from Toms River and join neighboring Lavallette.
As we saw this week, when tragedy struck in Ortley Beach, units from Toms River’s Silverton First Aid Squad, a twenty to thirty-minute drive to Toms River’s Ocean Beach III were among the first responders to arrive on the scene.
The Toms River Police Department which maintains a skeleton staff on the barrier island in the off-season also responded to an incident where it could have been more swiftly handled by local authorities, including the Lavallette Police Department, Seaside Heights Police Department, and the Mantoloking or even Brick Police Department.
The Toms River government in the past two weeks has turned two tragedies into media circus sideshows as Mayor Mo Hill posts himself day after day in front of television cameras to make a spectacle out of his own community. There’s a reason Seaside Heights just turned down the Jersey Shore. They don’t need to be a media freak show.
When a child died on the beach in Ortley Beach, once again Mayor Hill and even Councilman Kevin Geohegan jumped at the chance to be in front of the camera to exploit the tragedy for personal and political recognition.
We know the islanders in our county aren’t like that. They are subdued people who just want to live life in their oceanfront community peacefully and not turn their town into some kind of reality television show.
Then there’s the question of liability in that tragedy as far as the township of Toms River not doing its due diligence to make sure beaches were safe after such a large storm. Maybe the prudent approach is to close all beaches for a few days after a major storm to inspect for things like sinkholes and unstable sugar sand.
But for now, Ortley Beach is at the mercy of elected officials who don’t live in their community.
Toms River maintains a stronghold on its oceanfront communities that not only pay more in taxes annually than most other residents but they were also hit hardest by the township’s latest tax hike at the hands of Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill’s reevaluation. That reevaluation saw many Ortley Beach residents see their property taxes increase as much as 50% in just one year.
It’s clear Toms River officials are now eyeing the annexation of Lavallette, seeking to capitalize on the recent retirement of the borough’s chief of police, but it’s unclear if residents of Lavallette want to be just another satellite town of Toms River, which is fast becoming one of the state’s largest cities. Annexation of Lavallette by Toms River would, like Ortley Beach mean taxation without representation by the governing body of Toms River, all mainlanders.
The 2019 plan by residents of Ortley to leave the city of Toms River and join nearby Lavallette would have an immediate impact on residents, according to the petitioners. Taxes for barrier island residents would immediately decrease as Ortley Beach would no longer have to pay Toms River fire taxes, but get service from Seaside Heights. They would no longer share the large pot of taxes collected to maintain the Toms River Regional School District, instead of paying just their fair share per student, not divided per capita.
It costs the average Ortley Beach family more to send their kids to school in Toms River than it does for the average Toms River mainland resident when you factoring their share of the tax burden.
K-8 students in Ortley could attend the Lavallette K-8 school district and send their kids to Point Pleasant Beach High School, a shorter drive where they would be in school with fellow barrier island students.
Lavallette and Ortley Beach have synergy with each other and very little with Toms River. You can notice the difference between the two towns on the island very clearly. Lavallette is a picturesque shore town with a bustling business economy with a thriving business center year-round.
Now as some Toms River officials and playmakers behind the scene are attempting to use the controversy at the Lavallette Police Department as a measure to sow discontent in the peaceful community of Lavallette, residents should be on high alert for the big con about to unfold at the hands of powerful pay-to-play lawyers who see Lavallette’s annexation as nothing more than a political power grab to strip the borough of its identity and to rob the township coffers by appointing their own lawyers, engineers, professionals and elected officials in the small square mile oceanfront town.
If Lavallette residents want higher taxes and to be governed by the Mo Hill clan that is making bad decisions on the mainland and on the barrier island, by all means, listen to Hill’s propaganda machine, which has already been activated just days after the announcement of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office temporary management of the police department.
One thing is certain, Toms River won’t go down without a fight if the residents decided to leave the union, not because they will miss the residents of Ortley Beach being part of their town, but because they will miss the millions of dollars in tax revenue they would lose.