How does the legislature make state-level policies work for small communities?

WV Delegates Storch and Cowles review legislation related to local governments

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

When it comes to making state-level policies, the WV Legislature is tasked with finding policy solutions that will impact everyone in the state. This is a tall order, considering the striking diversity of communities across the state. Our communities vary greatly in size, in community vision, and in the types of challenges they face.

As citizens, thinking critically about how this is done can provide opportunities to jump in when policy solutions aren’t working, to suggest alternatives, and to advocate for policies that serve all of us.

What strategies do legislators use to make sure that the big policies that they are passing work for small communities?

Here are some examples:

Pass legislation that is only applicable to a specific geographic area, communities of a specific size, etc.

This accounts for the fact that communities with different characteristics will experience different challenges. It prevents geographic areas that aren’t experiencing the same challenges from having extra, non-applicable laws. On the other hand, if the policy becomes applicable to new geographic areas in the future, it will take another bill to expand the policy solution.

Example: SB 36

This bill would establish the Mountaineer Trail Network. This is a great solution to the challenge of how to organize cooperation on this trail, but if new counties want to be added to the network in the future, another piece of legislation will be required. 

Pass legislation that is very specific to a challenge.

This naturally includes only communities that are dealing with this challenge and excludes those that are not. Therefore, if a challenge is specific to rural areas, and the proposed legislation is very specific about that challenge, lawmakers can be more confident that it won’t impact urban communities – or vice versa.

Example: HB 2309

This bill would allow municipalities to cancel elections when only one person is running. This bill is specific enough that it excludes any community which has multiple candidates for their political offices.

Pass legislation that can be interpreted broadly.

This is probably the most common method that state legislators use to ensure that small and rural communities aren’t adversely impacted by state laws. A particular mechanism that they use is using the word “may” rather than the word “shall.”

When a bill says “may,” local governments have the option of whether or not to adopt the legislation. This way local governments can determine how the law might impact their community and act accordingly. 

Example: SB 138

This legislation offers some incentives for local governments that choose to consolidate. But, because of the way this bill is written, no local government would be obligated to consolidate.

Pass legislation that gives a local government authority to legislate on the issue.

Understanding that community members are the experts on how to solve local problems is at the core of The Hub’s work. Local-level governments are comprised of experts that can come up with policy solutions that directly address challenges residents are facing.

Example: Home Rule (passed in 2019)

This legislation gives municipalities the authority to identify policy solutions to challenges they are facing that are specific to that municipality. For example, Morgantown can pass ordinances prohibiting upholstered furniture from being on people’s porches to prevent couch burning, without it having to be a statewide mandate.

It’s a difficult task that legislators take on – making policies that are implemented statewide that must serve our small, rural communities as well as our urban ones – but it’s a vital responsibility of our state government.

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Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.