The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

December 3, 2012

Cities want slow pace toward home rule

Legislature asked to expand program to four more participants

CHARLESTON — West Virginia cities aren’t ready to accept more power from state government in the wake of a legislative study that recommends as much, the group that represents them has concluded.

The state Municipal League instead is advising lawmakers to stick with the “home rule” pilot program applauded by last week’s report from the Performance Evaluation and Research Division.

“We wish to see the program expanded and continued,” league Executive Director Lisa Dooley said. “We’re happy with that (recommendation), but there are 232 cities. ... We support using this as a laboratory, for testing these ideas.”

Dooley said the league is asking the Legislature to extend the pilot program another five years and keep its four participants — Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport — while allowing four more to join. Currently limited to cities, Dooley said towns and villages should be given the chance to take part if they have the resources to apply. That process includes filing a detailed plan with specific proposed changes to ordinances, rules and regulations.

West Virginia has a highly centralized government and limits the taxing authority and other powers of cities, towns and villages. The legislative audit found that the cities that experimented with increased powers during the five-year program successfully tackled blight, simplified business licensing and strengthened their finances. The auditors concluded the program’s approach to home rule should be expanded to all cities statewide with more than 2,000 residents.

Officials from the pilot program cities weighed in during last week’s interim study meetings. Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie reminded a House-Senate subcommittee assigned to the topic that West Virginia’s cities compete with those in border states that have long enjoyed full-fledged powers.

“What we were able to do was lessen the burden, lessen the bureaucracy, lessen the taxes in the City of Wheeling because of home rule,” said McKenzie, a Republican. “We have to have the ability to govern locally to make things better in our community.”

Lawmakers asked the officials about potential critics of home rule. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones cited the cities’ newfound power to require the owners of vacant properties to register them. Registry programs charge owners fees that escalate the longer a building stands empty, to push them to restore or demolish it. The measure is one of five that emerged from the program and can now be adopted by any municipality in the state.

“You might find a landlord or two that doesn’t want to obey the law, or doesn’t want to have his property brought up to the standard of various neighborhoods,” said Jones, a Republican and mayor of the state’s most populous city and its capital. “That would be the only complaint, because the neighbors want the houses fixed.”

The Municipal League supports continuing to exclude annexation from the range of topics that can be pursued within the pilot program.

“Annexation laws are working well and do not have to be invoked for change under home rule,” Dooley told the joint Government Organization subcommittee last week.

But Dooley and city officials are urging lawmakers not to close the door on allowing tax changes. Huntington faces a legal challenge over its attempt to replace a $3-a-week user fee with a 1 percent occupation tax under home rule. That has spurred concerns that revenue-strapped cities would seek to hike taxes on residents and employers.

Huntington Mayor-elect Steve Williams considers the occupation tax a dead issue. The Democrat told lawmakers that he plans to work with the city council to rescind it and resolve the lawsuit. He also cited how Huntington cut an existing tax on service and retail businesses while eliminating it for manufacturers, all through the pilot program.

“There’s another side to that tax reform package that did not get much attention, but that side has been tremendously successful,” said Williams, who like McKenzie and Jones is also a former legislator. “Keep taxation as part of this. Don’t wall it off from us.”

Dooley echoed Williams’ point. She also said that while the tax issue may not be behind the defeat of Mayor Kim Wolfe in November, the election result underscores another reality about home rule.

“If the citizens of a municipality disagree with the decisions being made, they’ll vote them out. We know that, and that is home rule,” Dooley said. “Really, it’s letting the citizens determine their destiny.”

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teacher planning, abortion ban among W.Va. vetoes

    Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed about 200 bills and nixed eight this year, leaving teachers and abortion opponents unsatisfied.

    April 7, 2014

  • Spill company president ‘bears no fault’

    The president of Freedom Industries “bears no fault” for a West Virginia chemical spill that spurred a water-use ban for up to 10 days for 300,000 people, his lawyer says in a court filing.
    On Friday, Freedom President Gary Southern withdrew his application to get paid for work he already did during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. He also wanted Freedom and its insurance to cover his legal fees related to the Jan. 9 spill.

    April 5, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads