City officials to attend conference

PARKERSBURG – City officials will be in Charleston this week for the West Virginia Municipal League’s annual conference.

Among the main topics of the four-day event will be discussions of home rule and police and fire pensions.

Mayor Bob Newell said about half of Parkersburg City Council and several staff members would be attending the conference. Newell himself sits on several boards within the Municipal League.

The home rule sessions include an overview of the program, potential pitfalls and guidance on how to complete the application process. Newell said he believes the home rule sessions will prompt council to take a deeper look at applying to the state’s home rule pilot program. The state legislature recently agreed to open the program, which had served five West Virginia cities, to additional participants. Applications for the program must be turned in by the start of 2014.

“I think council is interested,” in applying, he said. “It’s just a matter of deciding what we want to do.”

Newell said he would like to see the city implement a 1 percent sales tax, which would then be used to phase out some fees. However, Newell said the state legislature earlier this year passed a bill limiting how those dollars could be spent, allowing them only to be used to reduce Building and Occupation Tax, also known as B&O.

“That’s very disappointing,” Newell said. “While I have wanted to reduce or do away with B&O, I also thought this was an opportunity to reduce other fees like police and fire or even the user fee. The Legislature won’t allow us to reduce those fees.”

Newell also said he hopes to partner with Vienna to make sure the two neighboring cities do not compete with each other.

“It would only make sense and be beneficial if Parkersburg and Vienna implement it at the same time,” he said. “We don’t want one city to do it and not the other.”

Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp agreed.

“It has a lot of benefits if we do it together,” he said. “Williamstown already has a sales tax. If Parkersburg and we do it, then the whole county is under the same plan.

“I think when the state board looks at this plan and realizes all of Wood County is going to be in on this together, I think it will look better for us all.”

Rapp said he and several council members along with city staff, such as the finance director, auditor and city recorder, would be attending the conference today and tomorrow.

There really are two areas of interest for us,” Rapp said. “The police pension fund and home rule are really the two things we want to educate ourselves on.”

Newell said Parkersburg’s finance director also would be attending the police and fire pension seminars.