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Home rule – but separately

Leaders in both Charles Town, Ranson want added authority

RANSON – As the state’s nascent home rule pilot project prepares to expand from four to 20 cities, both Charles Town and Ranson have their eyes on the new authority it grants municipal governments.

[cleeng_content id=”364973780″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]During an opening joint meeting between elected leaders of both town’s this month, Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith said the expanded powers could help the city fight off declining revenue – a consequence of increased competition for Hollywood Casino as well as a proposed “haircut bill” that would knock 15 percent off of the city’s portion of gambling taxes. The home rule project allows cities to impose a 1 percent sales tax to help bolster their revenues.

Blake said Ranson could use the sales tax to reduce the business and occupancy tax – currently one of the largest revenue sources for both towns – in an effort to make the city more attractive to businesses.

“It would allow you to reduce your B&O tax to take the burden off of business owners. They become the tax collector instead of the taxpayer,” he said. “It would allow for enhanced revenues to prepare for more competition for gaming.”

Ranson City Council Member Duke Pierson emphasized that home rule would not require implementation of a sales tax, however.

“It gives us the opportunity,” he said. “We don’t have to do anything.”

Ranson City Manager Andy Blake said home rule cities are given much broader local control. Cities in West Virginia normally have to have enabling legislation passed by the state Legislature in order to pass and enforce municipal ordinances, but

“Right now cities in West Virginia only have those powers that the Legislature has given to cities,” he said. “Home rule gives municipalities the right to pass laws that are not contrary to the state constitution or the federal constitution.”

The home rule pilot program was first established in 2007 following the passage of SB744. The first four cities to opt for participation were Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport. A 2012 audit of the program performed by the legislative auditor found that the program had “been effective as a forum for municipalities to test new ideas, most of which have been implemented locally and statewide with positive results.”

Smith said home rule would also aid Charles Town in trying to solve the city’s vacant building problem. “It gives us some additional leverage with vacant structures and demolition, which we are doing now, but it is very time-consuming through the courts. Home rule gives municipalities a little more power,” she said.

Blake said Ranson was similarly interested in the powers home rule offers in terms of enforcing building codes and related ordinances. “It also allows for more authority, such as streamlined code enforcement, property maintenance and building inspection powers,” he said.

The governments of both cities examined for a time the possibility of filing to the program jointly, said Ranson Mayor David Hamill, but they later determined it would be preferable to file separate applications. Instead, the content of those applications, which outlines specific areas in which the new powers could be put to use, was designed so that they closely mirror one another.

At last week’s joint meeting of the two towns, Ranson also agreed to allow Blake to assist Charles Town with their preparation of a home rule application, since City Manager Joe Cosentini is due to leave at the end of the month.

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