Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 24, 2013

Local municipalities look into home rule program as it expands through W.Va.

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Success seen in cities using the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Program has prompted the state to let more communities participate, and at least one Mercer County city is planning to submit its application.

The program allows communities more power to identify state rules that restrict their capability to perform their duties. It also lets the cities identify effective solutions. Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, and Bridgeport have participated in a five-year pilot program. A legislative audit determined the program was beneficial, according to the Associated Press.

Mayor Tom Cole of Bluefield said the state was going to bring 16 new communities into the program for a total of 20. The new Bluefield City Board plans to pursue the home rule status, too.

“That is at the top of our list, absolutely,” Cole said Friday. “We will do everything in our power to see we are selected for home rule.”

The state will be accepting applications between January and June 2014. Cole said he wanted to make sure the city’s application for the program would be thorough.

“What I have told the other members of the board as well as (City Manager) Jim Ferguson is that I’m not worried about having the first application. I’m worried about having the best application,” he said.

Being in the Municipal Home Rule Program would give the city more flexibility, Cole stated.

“Simply put, home rule allows local government to govern,” he stated.

Home rule would allow Bluefield to look at ideas in regard to the city’s business and occupation taxes, and how the city generates revenue. It would allow the city to enforce ordinances as the city sees fit, and “reduce a lot of the red tape the city has to put on businesses in regards to business licenses,” Cole said.

Bridgeport cut the number of business license applications from 81 to one, and replaced a series of rates with one $15 fee, according to the AP. In Huntington, local ideas led the state to give every county and municipality the power to file for a lien on a portion of a fire insurance policy to help defray the cost of removing burned-out structures.

The city of Princeton had not decided yet whether to apply for the home rule program, said Mayor Patricia Wilson.

“We are still in the process of studying it,” she said. “We want to weigh all of our options to see if it’s going to benefit us before we obligate to it.”

Princeton is already doing things suggested by the program such as working on renewing the downtown, Wilson said.

“We have not ruled it out, and we are still studying how it would fit the city,” she said.