BY: TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
HB 4158 could change the game for municipalities across WV. Here’s how:
Municipal home rule originated in West Virginia in 2007 and sets up a process and oversight for municipalities to adopt ordinances that address local issues, without needing to be granted express permission to do so by the WV state code.
Currently, home rule privileges are granted to communities through a pilot program that is slated to end in 2020.
HB 4158 would make the home rule program permanent, ensuring that municipalities continue to have the ability to address issues unique to their communities. The bill also:
- Establishes the existing Home Rule Board as the permanent entity responsible for reviewing all applications for new ordinances.
- Opens the program to all municipalities who would like to participate.
- No municipality is allowed to apply for an ordinance which would conflict with WV’s eligibility to receive federal money for transportation.
- No municipality is allowed to apply for an ordinance excusing a professional from receiving the certification or training they are currently obligated by law to have in order to do their job.
These additional pieces of the bill are designed to address potential challenges and make sure that the program has continuing oversight in the years ahead.
Lisa Dooley, Executive Director of the West Virginia Municipal League is urging the Legislature to pass this bill stating that, “Home Rule is, first and foremost, designed to empower citizens.” She sees municipalities as key drivers of economic development in WV and cites Home Rule as the key to helping municipalities continue to build a strong economy.
What would this bill passing mean for you? Well, if you’re a citizen, municipal staff, or an elected official in one of WV’s 232 municipalities and you’ve been struggling to address a challenge in your community, this could open up new opportunities to do so.
Home Rule Program in Action
In the 10 years it has been in existence, the Home Rule Pilot Program has benefitted both the municipalities who participate and the state as a whole by providing:
- The ability to address common problems
- Testing ordinances for their effectiveness before expanding them statewide
- Providing solutions to municipality-specific challenges, and
- Offering municipalities greater opportunities for collaboration.
Solutions to common problems
- Cities such as Huntington, Morgantown and Charleston have used Home Rule to generate sales tax revenue to offset the cost of their pension programs, making it possible to fully cover pensions while not depleting the services offered to city residents and guests.
A Testing ground for ordinances that can later be taken statewide
- Municipalities now have the authority to establish a vacant building registration program and file liens on property for unpaid and delinquent vacant building registration fees. (HB4034, 2010)
Solutions to municipality-specific problems
- Creating an alternative water treatment system (Auburn, WV)
- The town of Auburn had 97 residents and a median household income of $9931 at the time of their home rule application. Wells were becoming contaminated by untreated wastewater and the local health department threatened legal action if no water treatment solution was implemented. Traditional sewage systems were far too expensive to reasonably afford. A Home Rule ordinance now authorizes them to use innovative methods to meet the water and sewage needs of their very small population and meet the standards of the law.
- Morgantown’s anti-couch burning ordinance
- Since 1979, 3,323 street or dumpster fires were started in Morgantown, most fueled by furniture carried off porches. These fires caused a host of problems for the city, but have been curbed by a Home Rule ordinance which gives the city the authority to regulate outdoor upholstered furniture
Opportunities for municipalities to collaborate
- The city of Beckley created ordinances through Home Rule to streamline their ability to enter into agreements with other government entities. The city has made use of this new authority to more expediently do business with West Virginia University.
- The city of St. Albans has created similar ordinances which allow them to expedite mutual emergency aid agreements between itself and surrounding municipalities.
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