City council gives home rule a definite maybe

PARKERSBURG – By an 8-1 vote Tuesday, Parkersburg City Council approved a resolution to begin applying for participation in a state Home Rule Pilot Program, but officials said the move does not guarantee the city will apply.

Mayor Bob Newell said Tuesday’s vote simply authorizes city officials to begin creating a plan for how the city would use the Home Rule Program. Home rule grants cities more control over certain issues, such as taxation, licensing and the removal of abandoned houses.

The state Legislature is looking at expanding the pilot program, which began five years ago and includes four cities, to allow more cities to participate.

Councilman John Kelly was the lone “no” vote Tuesday.

Kelly said council five years ago opted to not participate in the pilot program due to fears the state Legislature could end the program after five years, undoing any changes. In a situation like eliminating the city’s building and occupation tax, also known as B&O Tax, the city would be forced to suddenly tax area businesses.

Newell said since then the Legislature has shown greater support for the program and has given participating cities the ability to include a sales tax, which could be used to reduce or eliminate the B&O Tax.

Councilman John Rockhold, who has been an advocate of home rule, said the state pilot program has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from participating cities and state officials.

Kelly said he would not vote for participation in the program because the Legislature has not yet approved any changes to the program, including adding more cities.

“Before I am willing to vote for it, I want to see what is coming out of the Legislature,” he said. “I think this is kind of premature.”

Newell said the resolution was brought before council by council. The resolution was sponsored by eight of the nine council members, the same ones who then voted to approve the resolution.

“This is your resolution, not mine. This was prompted by council,” Newell said. Tuesday’s resolution “has no teeth. This is not part of the process of home rule.”

Newell and city attorney Joe Santer clarified the council would later be asked to vote on a plan to be sent to the state concerning home rule.