Millville institutes property tax hike

Citing a depleting general fund and a need to be proactive in budgeting, the Millville Town Council voted Tuesday night to enact a significant hike in property taxes. However, after hearing complaints from local businessmen, the council voted to cut out a part of the proposed ordinance that called for a new 5 percent rental tax.
The tax increase raises property tax from $.20, to $.20 per $100 of Sussex County assessment value times two, as well as an increased fee schedule. That translates into a person who would previously pay $100 a year in town taxes paying $250 a year under the new system.

“We have all tossed and turned over this,” said Mayor Donald Minyon. “We all live here, too. We’re also affected by this individually. But when we look back at our budget, we see no other way to do it.”

The town has seen unprecedented growth over the past few years, calling for more town employees to handle the burgeoning load. Also, Minyon explained, the slowdown in real estate has caused such projects as Millville By the Sea to hold off construction — thus lessening the expected tax rolls for the town. Town officials also pointed to state laws that limit the spending of transfer tax dollars.

“It’s frustrating to have an account with over $1 million in it, and not being able to touch it to run the town’s business,” said Vice-Mayor Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr.

Resident Mike Harrison was one of several Millville residents to express displeasure with the tax hike.

“Frankly, I think this increase is out-of-hand,” said Harrison, who went on to explain that he’s had the same street light near his house for more than 20 years, and he hasn’t received any additional services from the town over that period. “I don’t see why a town the size of ours needs this much overhead.”

Minyon vigorously defended the town’s hiring of employees to meet the town’s needs, and publicly stated that the town was fortunate to have employees of the caliber of Millville.

In recent years, Millville has grown from one part-time employee to two full-time employees and two who work part-time.

Minyon pointed out that the town’s 2007-2008 budget, which runs through March, included $282,364 in subdivision fees paid to the town. The 2008-2009 budget, however, includes zero dollars for subdivision fees, as the real estate slowdown has reared its head in the town.

“We’re being pro-active here,” said Minyon. “We see that we could be having trouble down the road, and we’re acting now to protect the town and residents. If we had another solution to this, trust me, we’d be willing to do it.”

Local businessman Russell Banks took the floor to dispute a proposed 5 percent rental tax. Banks said the hike was not fair to local business, and that businesses who owned the property were being taxed three times — property tax, a business license and the proposed rental tax. “It’s just not fair. I really wish you’d reconsider this,” said Banks.

Jerry Richard, who owns the Steakhouse 26 restaurant in Millville, also addressed council. Richard said that local businesses are also feeling the crunch, and that part of the reason he opened his restaurant in the Millville Town Center was because of the Millville By the Sea project. “You’re really putting the strain on local businesses,” said Richard, who said he would have to pay an additional $50,000 over the course of his lease to meet the tax.

Following continued discussion, Councilwoman Joan Bennett moved that the council approve the ordinance — with the omission of the rental tax. The ordinance was approved 4-0, with Councilwoman Kami Banks absent.

Following the ordinance’s adoption, council members moved on to their regular monthly council meeting. Discussed during the meeting:

• The council voted 4-0 to approve a $10,200 expense to fully automate the town’s codification efforts.

• Town Manager Debbie Botchie reported that state police activity in Millville for the month of December included seven traffic arrests and one shoplifting arrest.

• Minyon said that interest earned from the town’s transfer taxes could be earmarked for double the state police coverage for the town in coming years.

• Botchie announced that the deadline to file for the town’s March 1 council election is Feb. 1. To be eligible, candidates must be at least 18 years of age, residents of Millville for at least 90 days and U.S. citizens, and have no felonies on their records.