Parkersburg, Vienna pitch for home rule
WHEELING – Parkersburg officials believe imposing a 1 percent sales tax would generate an extra $4.74 million annually, while Vienna leaders said doing the same would yield them $2.82 million more a year.
Officials from both Wood County cities trekked north Monday to meet with members of the Municipal Home Rule Board in Wheeling City Council Chambers. Parkersburg and Vienna are two of the 22 cities throughout West Virginia seeking 16 slots in the second round of home rule.
Wheeling, Charleston, Huntington and Bridgeport gained the autonomy in 2008.
Board members Patsy Trecost, Floyd McKinley Sayre, Brian Jones, Chris Fletcher and Joshua Jarrell also heard presentations from Moundsville and Weirton leaders Monday. Following the board’s Sept. 8 meeting, members will consider all applications to determine which 16 cities can participate.
In addition to Parkersburg, Vienna, Moundsville and Weirton, Mountain State cities seeking home rule include Morgantown, Fairmont, Bath, Bluefield, Buckhannon, Charles Town, Dunbar, South Charleston, Clarksburg, Lewisburg, Martinsburg, Milton, Nitro, Oak Hill, Princeton, Ranson, Shinnston and Spencer. Officials in St. Albans recently saw their application rejected for not holding enough public hearings on the matter.
Even if a city is accepted to the program, council members from that particular city must then pass individual ordinances to enact the provisions of its specific home rule plan.
In addition to applying the 1 percent sales tax, Parkersburg leaders plan to do the following if approved for home rule:
* eliminate business and occupation taxes on manufacturers and utility generators;
* reduce business and occupation taxes for retailers and restaurants;
* have greater authority to collect liens for demolishing dilapidated buildings;
* consolidate the responsibilities of the city’s planning commission and board of zoning appeals.
“You all have a very good plan. I complement you on it,” Sayre told Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, Finance Director Ashley Flowers, Development Director Rickie Yeager and other city leaders.
Yeager told board members that West Virginia’s third-largest city now has approximately 80 buildings that need to come down, while he said at least another 80 are in poor condition.
Newell said Parkersburg and other Wood County areas could soon see substantial economic growth, partially due to the planned Odebrecht ethane cracker and other development related to the oil and natural gas industry.
“We are almost out of housing due to the influx of oil and gas people,” he said.
The only point of contention involved the potential consolidation of the city’s planning commission and board of zoning appeals. Yeager said the main reason Parkersburg seeks this authority is because officials want to “maximize time.”
“It is getting more and more difficult to get volunteers,” he said.
However, Fletcher said combining these two organizations could be a problem because they have two distinct roles in city government.
“You are creating a monster that you are going to lose control of,” he said.
In addition to applying the 1 percent sales tax, Vienna leaders hope to enact the following measures if approved for home rule:
* reduce or eliminate certain B&O taxes;
* make needed repairs to dilapidated structures;
* issue immediate citations for sanitation violations;
* have the right to sell or lease property to non-profit organizations;
* work with nearby municipalities to purchase goods at lower rates;
* enforce regulations on those operating tow trucks in city limits.
“We have a very conservative approach,” Mayor Randy Rapp said.
Board members asked Rapp about the plan to regulate tow trucks, which he said would require them to utilize spill containment kits to prevent antifreeze and gasoline from entering the city’s drainage system.
“These guys all carry a little bit of kitty litter with them, but a little bit of kitty litter is not enough to prevent antifreeze from going in the drain,” he said.