Newell: City to craft home rule plan

PARKERSBURG – Mayor Bob Newell said administrators will craft a plan showing what changes the city would make if given home rule by the state.

The plan is part of the process of applying to the state’s Home Rule Pilot Program, which state legislators are expected to open up to additional cities in the near future.

Newell on Wednesday clarified some of his statements made at Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting where eight council members put forth and approved a non-binding resolution authorizing city officials to move forward on the application process. During the meeting, Newell was answering questions from Councilman John Kelly who was not a sponsor and voted against the resolution. Kelly said the resolution was premature because the state Legislature had yet to approve continuing the pilot program and expanding it to include other cities. During the discussion Newell stated the resolution had been put forth by council, not him.

“Kelly was challenging me on it and I was trying to remind him they were the ones that brought it at this point,” Newell said. “He needed to argue with (Councilman John) Rockhold rather than me as to why it was brought so early in the process.”

Like Rockhold, Newell remains and advocate of home rule for Parkersburg.

“Oh yes, I’m still very much in favor of it,” Newell said. The resolution, he said, was intended to give clear direction on whether the council was interested in pursuing home rule.

The first step would be to draft a plan for what changes the city might make while in the pilot program.

“We have to tell the committee in Charleston what exactly our plan is if in fact we become a home rule city,” Newell said.

Newell said one move would be to implement a sales tax and use that revenue to lower the city’s building and occupation tax, or B&O Tax.

“We would replace part of it,” he said. The new revenue “will never replace it all. It would reduce it.”

Newell said the B&O Tax has been a burden on local businesses for years, and reducing it would promote business within the city.

In addition to implementing a sales tax, the city also would look at better dealing with blighted and abandoned structures.

“We are looking at putting more teeth into code enforcement with dilapidated buildings and houses,” he said.

Newell said home rule would not be viewed as an excuse to raise taxes, but as a way to have a more solid plan for revenue for the city.

“We don’t need home rule to raise taxes,” he said. “City council at any time can implement a 2 percent utility tax, which almost every city in the state has and we do not. We could also max out B&O Tax, which we have not done.”

A final plan will have to be approved by council before it is sent to the state, he said. Officials also are waiting on final details from the state once the Legislature approves expansion of the program.