WV communities score a huge victory: Municipal Home Rule

SB 4, the Municipal Home Rule Bill passes on a vote of 87 to 11. WV Legislative Photography, Photo by Perry Bennett.

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

One of the major victories won on behalf of WV communities this session was the passage of SB 4 – a bill that makes the Municipal Home Rule Program permanent and opens it up to all municipalities in the state.* A lion’s share of the credit for the passage of this bill goes to the Municipal League whose advocacy has been at the forefront of the push for Home Rule as a statewide program for years.

Home Rule Basics

Home Rule originated in 2007 and sets up a process for municipalities to adopt ordinances that address local issues, without needing to be granted express permission to do so by the WV state code. It also sets up a board to review these proposed ordinances to make sure that municipalities have followed the proper procedure and that they are legal.

Prior to this session, Home Rule privileges were granted to communities through a pilot program that was slated to end in 2019. With just hours to go before the session ended, legislators passed this vital policy giving municipalities the ability to do what they know how to do better than anyone: address challenges unique to their communities.

Home Rule: Addressing Community Challenges

Municipalities that were a part of the pilot program have already been using Home Rule to address a wide variety of issues such as:

  • Creating methods to address vacant and abandoned properties like having the authority to use city resources to clean up blighted properties, being able to dispose of property without an auction, on the spot citations
  • Establishing a 1% sales tax to increase municipal revenue
  • Attracting new business opportunities and revenue through allowing alcohol sales at brunch or reducing the B&O tax
  • Enabling municipalities to enter into contracts with other government entities by resolution

 

Originally, Home Rule was designed to be a testing ground where solutions to common problems were tried out at the local level to determine whether or not it would be a good idea to implement them statewide. For example, the legislation that allows all municipalities to create vacant building registries was first tried out as a Home Rule ordinance.

Now, these opportunities are open to all 232 municipalities in WV. Thanks to this policy, and the hard work of the Municipal League, we’re envisioning a future where WV communities can use new and innovative solutions to address unique challenges, grow their economies, and strengthen their communities.

*Class IV cities, or those with a population of less than 2,000, will be allowed into the Home Rule Program at a rate of 4 cities per year.

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