Lawmakers propose ‘home rule’ renewal

CHARLESTON – A bill opening up a home rule pilot project to more West Virginia municipalities is being considered in the state Legislature.

A bill discussed Monday by a House-Senate study subcommittee would add four more municipalities with at least 2,000 people to the state’s home rule pilot project.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said if the bill continues through the state House and Senate, he will encourage Parkersburg City Council members to approve the city applying to be part of the project.

“That is something you would have to have council approve,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t move on it by myself. I plan on encouraging council to apply if this moves forward.”

Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling have experimented with the home rule pilot program. An audit on the program reported the cities streamlined government offices, simplified business licensing and found better ways to fund public services.

The auditors recommended the Legislature expand the program for all cities with more than 2,000 residents.

The draft bill being considered this week would forbid any municipal changes related to annexation, pensions or crimes. Any tax changes would require the approval of at least 55 percent of residents.

It would also void any tax changes already made. A group representing cities wants that amended to allow Huntington to continue with one of its two tax changes.

Newell said while the ability for cities to raise revenue through taxes is important, it is only one aspect of home rule.

“The whole purpose is to allow cities, with oversight, to become more efficient and effective,” he said. “It is not all about taxation. It may be something as simple as streamlining the ability for us to take and demolish abandoned homes and abandoned buildings.”

District 8 Councilman John Rockhold said he would need to see more details before approving any such plan.

“I would definitely want to take a look at it, but would start with some questions,” he said. “You have to look at what is best and what is right for Parkersburg.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.