Bennett saves day in Millville

It was an emotionally-charged scene in Millville Town Hall Tuesday evening.

Residents were angry about the proposed hike in property taxes, and a few business owners were upset about the proposed rental tax within the same ordinance. Fingers were being pointed, and frustrated council members were explaining over and over again why the town needed to take this step to ensure Millville’s future solvency. The council was on a time restraint, because the first draft of the town’s 2008-2009 budget must be set by Feb. 1, so a decision had to be made that night.

That’s when Councilwoman Joan Bennett made a motion to approve the ordinance — minus the rental tax being levied on businesses. A quick check with Councilman/Treasurer Richard Thomas showed that the town could in fact make do without the rental tax, and council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance in that manner.

Bennett was not alone in diffusing this matter. Councilman Gerald Hocker Jr. made an impassioned speech about how he would have fought against this ordinance tooth-and-nail a year ago, but the present and future financial security of the town required the tax hike at this time. Mayor Donald Minyon showed a board with the town’s finances to the crowd to explain the situation and Thomas told how he feared the town’s situation was getting worse and worse.

But Bennett’s motion came in the nick of time.

This was one of democracy’s finest hours. The members of the Millville Town Council were open and honest with the residents, and those in attendance were open with council about their concerns. When the entire room was starting to see the validity of the arguments against the rental tax, the council saw what the people wanted, weighed it against the fiscal realities of the town’s business and made a decision that was fair.

While we praise Bennett and the other officials from Millville for listening to their constituents and making a fair proposal, we also have to go out of our way to praise the people who came out to voice their own opinions.

This is how government works best.

Nobody in the town — officials or residents — is pleased that property taxes had to be escalated to run the town, but at least everyone had their say.

And the officials listened.