Officials in two Mercer County cities are hoping to apply for the state’s newly expanded home rule program.
With the signage of Senate Bill 435 by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, any incorporated municipality, city or town in West Virginia that has paid their state fees is eligible to apply for the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program.
Only 14 municipalities will be selected to join the expanded program and the Municipal Home Rule Board will choose which cities get to participate in the program. Municipalities have until July 1 to apply.
Bluefield Mayor Linda Whalen said city officials strongly supported the passage of the home rule program expansion.
“We as a city worked hard with the West Virginia Municipal League to get this expansion passed,” Whalen said. “We appreciate all of our local lawmakers for voting in favor of this bill. We did apply for this last time, but somehow our application fell through. We will be discussing this at our next city board meeting to determine how to proceed with our application, but this has a lot of benefits for cities. This is certainly something we are interested in.”
Whalen said home rule could benefit Bluefield economically.
“This is a great opportunity for us to enact some rules that would help economic development within our city,” she said. “This gives us an opportunity to pass rules that would make us more competitive with Virginia. That is a benefit we could receive as a border city and the program was originally intended for border cities. It allows us to enact ordinances that the state might not allow.”
Additionally, Whalen said home rule could help the city run more efficiently.
“One ordinance passed by a city currently under home rule allows a city’s code enforcement department to issue citations on the spot for certain issues,” Whalen said. “Currently, the process drags out for months for small citations. Something like that would save us a lot of money and allow us to clean up our city.”
Princeton Mayor Patricia “Pat” Wilson said she personally wants to see the city apply for home rule.
“I am sure we will look into it and I am certainly in favor of it,” Wilson said. “We will discuss it and see how it could impact our community. It does give a municipality the ability to set down some of our own regulations.”
Wilson said home rule would allow the city to tailor certain ordinances and regulations to reflect Princeton’s needs.
“Anytime we can set down our own rules instead of going by state policies it is a good thing,” Wilson said. “Not all state policies are one-size-fits all, though the state seems to think they are. We don’t have an income as high as some other cities. Every municipality has its good points and every municipality has things it has to work on. This would allow us to work on some of those issues.”
Cities or towns accepted into the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program are not given the authority to pass any ordinance or rule or regulations conflicting with the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of West Virginia or federal laws, crimes and punishments. Municipalities in the program also are prevented from passing ordinances regarding pensions or retirement plans, annexation, tax increment financing, environmental laws, extraction of natural resources, or any law impacting persons or property outside the municipalities boundaries.
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