The home rule program that gives four cities additional authority to deal with local problems could be extended to other communities after its termination date in mid-2013.
"I am going to work to see if I can help cause that to happen," Delegate Jim Morgan, D-Cabell and chairman of the House of Delegates Government Organization Committee, said Nov. 27 after an interim committee meeting.
A legislative audit delivered to the interim committee members at the meeting recommended continuing the program and doing away with the Home Rule Board, which screened proposals from the four home rule cities.
Morgan said he would like to see more cities apply for home rule powers if the program is extended, and he would like to see the Home Rule Board going as a way of screening their proposals.
"I have a feeling part of the prohibitions will be no taxes," Morgan said.
Part of Morgan's district includes Huntington, a home rule city which has had problems implementing a 1 percent occupation tax. When the Huntington City Council enacted an ordinance to levy the tax, a lawsuit was filed in Cabell County Circuit Court to prevent it from taking effect.
Huntington has agreed to not pursue the tax while the court case is pending. But that could be moot next year anyway.
"I'm committed to not continuing pursuit of the occupation tax," Mayor-elect Steve Williams said in a Capitol hallway before the interim committee meeting began.
"Even if the court ruled in our favor, we would choose to not implement the occupation tax. It's a moot issue as far as I'm concerned.
"We have bigger fish to fry. I want to continue to reduce B&O taxes. I want to create growth. That's the way to grow our budget, not through taxes."
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said he hopes the Legislature extends home rule. He said he appreciates what home rule has done for the city.
"Our biggest plus is the building codes we had trouble enforcing before. We need more power, but we'll take whatever we can get," Jones said.
Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport have operated pilot programs under home rule to determine whether cities can handle local problems without some of the restrictions they otherwise face under state law.
Many of the home rule projects deal with liens on properties that are delinquent on services or fees, but Huntington took it further to implement a city sales tax and an occupation tax.
The sales tax has brought in $2,225,745 through Oct. 12. That allowed the city to eliminate the business and occupation tax on manufacturing, reduce the tax on service businesses from 1 percent to half a percent and reduce the tax on retail business from half a percent to one-fourth of 1 percent. The audit report quotes Huntington officials as saying those reductions saved Huntington businesses $2,085,000 in the first half of this year.
Morgan said the sales tax came through another piece of legislation instead of home rule, so even if home rule were not extended before it sunsets July 1, 2013, Huntington would still have its sales tax.
According to the audit report, Charleston has collected $202,258 through lien letters and property sales through liens it issued to collect delinquent fees. The city also collected $30,000 by publishing a list of the top 15 delinquent city service fee accounts.
Charleston also obtained the authority to issue "on-the-spot" citations for external sanitation violations and common nuisances. Charleston inspectors have reported faster compliance, and only two of the 63issued citations were appealed to the Municipal Court.
And Charleston may now sell land to nonprofits at fair market value without an auction. That allowed the city to sell a plot of connecting land to a Kroger store at Ashton Place without auctioning off the property. This store will use the land for a $9.6 million expansion, the report said.
"Given the success of the program and the benefits to the participating municipalities and the state, the Legislature should consider granting broad-based home rule to all Class I, II, and III municipalities," the audit report released at an interim committee meeting says.
"The Legislative Auditor assumes that the intent of the Legislature was to determine if home rule authority could be expanded to all Class I, II, and III municipalities without the continuation of the Home Rule Board; therefore it is recommended that the Home Rule Board be discontinued if home rule is expanded statewide."
Morgan said an interim subcommittee will meet at noon Nov. 28 to consider making state laws out of five home rule programs used by the four pilot cities.