By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams believes the state’s pilot home rule program has made his city more business friendly. And he’s hoping to see the city of Bluefield follow Huntington’s lead in joining the home rule program.
Williams, a native of Mercer County who grew up in Athens, traveled to Bluefield Tuesday with a simple message for the city Board of Directors — participate in home rule.
“Basically, we found it is easier to do business in Huntington with the changes we’ve been able to enact with home rule,” Williams said. “This is an absolute win-win for the city.”
By participating in the state’s original pilot home rule program, Williams said the city of Huntington has been able to reduce its business and occupation tax and eliminate the tax on manufacturing industries while also cutting the tax in half for the service industry. The end result has made Huntington more business friendly, Williams told the city board members.
The expanded home rule program affords cities in the Mountain State more power to identify state rules that may restrict their capability to perform municipal duties. It also provides cities greater flexibility in identifying effective solutions. The cities of Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport are already participating in the pilot five-year program. Now more communities are being allowed to join the home rule initiative. The state will be accepting applications for the program between January and June of next year.
“It’s a win-win for Bluefield,” Williams said of a home rule application. “It’s a win for businesses and it’s a win for residents. I would really encourage you to make an application, and put a proposal together.”
City officials in Bluefield are doing just that. But they still had plenty of questions Tuesday for Williams regarding home rule. Topics discussed Tuesday included everything from the demolition of condemned structures and a fee charged by the city for those who work in the municipal limits of Huntington.
Bluefield Mayor Tom Cole asked Williams if there were any parameters or restrictions in terms of what cities can and can’t do under home rule. Williams said cities can’t make rules dealing with annexation, marriage and gun control under home rule.
The group also talked about how cities can promote the benefits of living in the municipal limits to residents and businesses. Cole said while it is easier to sell the “value proposition” of living in the city to citizens, it is often harder to make the same argument to businesses.
“That is what we are fighting in West Virginia,” Williams said in agreement to Cole’s assessment. “But when we are talking to businesses about locating into the city that is one of the main things we have to talk about.”
Williams said officials sell the value of living in Huntington by promoting the city’s fire and police departments, which are 111 members strong, as well as having streets paved, maintained and plowed of snow.
City officials in Princeton also are considering participating in the expanded home rule program.