The Times West Virginian

Local News

December 11, 2013

Fairmont leaders eye home rule priorities

City officials want to focus on key issues if accepted into program

FAIRMONT — Fairmont City Council members met during a work session Tuesday to discuss the city’s plans to submit an application to be included in a home rule pilot program.

The program has been in place since 2007 and has allowed four West Virginia cities — Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling — to set up their own system of governing without receiving a charter from the state.

The program was originally set to end this year, but it has been extended to July 2019 and will add 16 municipalities, regardless of population, to the original four.

City manager Jay Rogers said the state will be accepting applications for the program beginning Jan. 1, 2014, but the criteria that will determine which cities get selected will not be developed by the home rule board until Jan. 9, 2014.

That means city officials will likely be eyeing the June 1, 2014, deadline.

Rogers said that although home rule will enable the cities that are selected for the program to exercise more power at the local level, some limitations still exist.

“You’ve got 18 items that you are exempt from doing anything with home rule on,” he said.

Among those exempted items are environmental law, the Freedom of Information Act, pensions, annexation, taxation and more.

Even so, Rogers acknowledged that some of the powers that could be given to the city through the home rule pilot program would result in more cost-effective and efficient practices.

According to Rogers, there are four priorities he believes the city should emphasize when developing the written plan that will be submitted for consideration: the authority to create a B&O tax credit that is not related to job creation; the authority to transfer city property directly without a public auction; the ability to limit industrial expansion under the zoning code; and the ability to reduce and/or eliminate categories of the B&O tax in order to implement a 1 percent sales tax.

Without home rule, Rogers said cities are only allowed to extend additional tax credits to businesses if it will mean those businesses will make a qualified investment and create more jobs. According to Rogers, though, the city should have more input on that decision.

“If the governing body of the City of Fairmont feels comfortable giving the tax credit to a business because it thinks it’s advantageous to have that business in the community, why should Charleston tell you that you can’t?” he said.

Rogers also said that being able to transfer properties that are valued at less than $10,000 without a public auction would be of great benefit to the city.

“It’s another way we could deal with getting these properties turned back over to somebody who would be able to be responsible for them and do something with them,” Rogers said.

City planner Kathy Wyrosdick said limiting industrial expansion under the zoning code will ensure that city regulations remain effective.

“We spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money going through a comprehensive planning process, adopting the zoning ordinance and making regulations that implement the comprehensive plan,” she said. “Why would you want a big loophole like that that could undermine all that hard work?”

Finally, Rogers said the money that would become available as a result of reducing the B&O tax and implementing a sales tax could alleviate issues related to the city’s pension programs.

“We could try to eliminate this outstanding debt that exists in the pension plans,” he said.

Rogers said many cities are also considering working together and including some of the same key priorities into their individual plans in an effort to show the state how important having those powers would be to the cities.

“It would be a way to really reinforce the idea to the Legislature that we need these powers,” he said.

Rogers said one example would be allowing cities to have the ability to adopt the most current set of building codes instead of only being able to adopt the codes that have been adopted by the state.

Following the work session, Fairmont City Council also met for a regularly scheduled meeting.

At the meeting, council adopted an ordinance providing for an amendment to the general fund of the city’s annual budget.

Finance director Eileen Layman said there was an increase in the other post-employment benefits that resulted in an increase of $13,500 in operating costs.

In addition, there was an increase of $20,800 in overtime costs for civil service employees who worked during the Marion County Board of Education special election in October.

The revision to the budget also included a transfer of the water board repayment of $132,000 to the capital projects fund.

“We have completed that payback,” Layman said. “We made the final transfer of $4,000 in the month of December, so the water board has fully paid back its liability to the general fund.”

Email Kaylyn Christopher at kchristopher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.

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