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Home Rule Bill Awaits Governor's Signature

By: Todd Baucher, Jillian Risberg & Associated Press Email
By: Todd Baucher, Jillian Risberg & Associated Press Email
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Updated: 04/15/20136:30 P.M.

A bill which passed overwhelmingly late Saturday night expands a pilot program assigned to four West Virginia cities, so that 20 can now apply for it as well. local delegates are supportive.

"I think quite a few people agree that we should give municipalities the same considerations," said Delegate John Ellem , R-Wood County, "and continue what is just a pilot project, to allow municipalities to show what they can do with more flexibility."

Parkersburg's mayor, an advocate of the idea, cautions it won't end city fees, including the user fee enacted two years ago. The bill passed saturday only allows the city to replace business and occupation taxes.

"Personally, I would have liked the opportunity to reduce other things as well," says Mayor Bob Newell. "But in their ammendment, state legislators said you could only reduce business and occupation taxes. That's not a bad thing, but it ties our hands in the future of reducing other fees."

Passage of the legislation was anything but easy. As a matter of fact, it appeared on several occasions Saturday that the bill was completely dead, before a late-night compromise made way for its passage.

The sticking point: an ammendment based on a bill which never reached the floor of the legislature, limiting weapons bans for participants only to municipal government buildings.

"The gun bill that was attached earlier, we never got the chance to see," said Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood County. "It said that some of the Senators were threatened (by it), so they sat on that bill. The House came back, and they interwove that into the Home Rule bill."

Parkersburg plans to apply for the home rule program once Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signs the bill into law.

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UPDATE: 04/11/2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The House of Delegates wants West Virginia to continue handing over more government power to cities and towns.

A 95-3 vote Thursday approved a measure extending an ongoing experiment with home rule for another five years.

The pilot program has so far included Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport. It's given them the authority to ease business licensing, cut fees and target abandoned buildings.

Wednesday's bill would allow other cities and towns to apply to join. But the Senate must now consider several House changes.

One bans fees similar to an occupation tax that would apply to non-residents. Another forbids any gun ordinances, except those banning firearms from such government buildings as city halls and recreation centers but not parking garages.

Senate leaders balked at an earlier gun ordinance repeal bill.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Updated: 3/27/2013 6:00 P.M.

Parkersburg City Council has approved a resolution which may eventually allow the city to apply for the Home Rule program for West Virginia.

But that depends on whether the West Virginia Legislature expands home rule from its initial five-year pilot program.

For that reason, last night's vote was non-binding, although Mayor Bob Newell says some council members may not have understood that. Still, it gives the mayor optimism council is interested.

"If the legislature-and I think they're headed that way-.approves the expansion of home rule," the mayor says, "then, at some time, city council does, in fact, have to vote favorably to pursue a specific plan of something we will change, to send to Charleston."

Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport took part in the first five-year pilot.

Home rule would give Parkersburg more control over such issues as taxation and demolition of vacant homes.

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Parkersburg leaders are considering becoming part of the state's Home Rule Pilot Program.

A resolution up for vote Tuesday by city council would authorize the city to apply for participation in the program and shift from government power more to the local level, Mayor Bob Newell says.

Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling enrolled in the initial five-year pilot. The legislature is now considering inviting 10 more cities to participate.

"We're interested in it because there are a lot of things that we could change that would make Parkersburg run a little bit smoother in several areas, one being dilapidated housing and areas such as that," Newell says.

The mayor says most of what West Virginia cities do right now is governed by state law, even taxation, and the legislature typically doesn't know what municipalities need.

They have their hands full running the state government and are not best suited to figure out how cities should run, according to Newell.


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