City council to discuss home rule

PARKERSBURG – Tuesday’s City Council meeting will include a public hearing for residents to comment on the city’s planned application to join West Virginia’s home rule program.

The meeting is slated for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday – a week earlier than usual due to the West Virginia primary election falling on May 13, ghe regular meeting day for city council- in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building. The hearing will accompany the first reading of the ordinance authorizing the application.

“Come and learn, come and question, come and understand,” Council President John Rockhold said.

The city is proposing a 1 percent sales tax along with the reduction or elimination of the Business and Occupation Tax on various types of commercial activity, consolidation of the Municipal Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals and changes to help the city recover the costs of demolishing run-down structures.

The B&O cuts are expected to cost the city about $2.1 million, with residents also saving money since the utility B&O is passed along on their bills. A rough estimate for sales tax revenue is $4.7 million, but Newell said the city doesn’t have a definitive way to project that.

Council can make amendments to the application, but Mayor Bob Newell said any wholesale changes would start the process over and prevent the city from meeting the application deadline of June 1. That’s why the administration presented the proposals to the Finance Committee last month.

“Our message to them was if you have any issues, get back to us,” Newell said, adding no council members have signaled any major concerns to him.

The mayor said the exact nature of the changes being proposed is secondary to actually being approved for participation by the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Board. Any of the changes will still have to be voted on by council and subject to public hearings if the city is accepted.

“The whole purpose of the two readings and the public hearing is just to become a home rule city,” Newell said. “If we’re not accepted as a home rule city, then we can’t do any of it. Nobody on City Council should be opposed to getting into the process.”

The mayor said the proposal can and should be revisited even after implementation, noting the city could make further B&O reductions if sales tax revenue is higher than anticipated.

Councilman John Kelly said he would like to see changes made to the proposal, but he doesn’t plan on pursuing them at this time.

“I don’t want to hold it up,” he said. “The important thing now is to take the next step in the application. It’s not the finished product.”

Becoming a home rule city will allow Parkersburg’s leaders to have more control over operations of the city, Rockhold said.

“We’re not Charleston, we’re not Huntington, we’re not Vienna, we’re not Martinsburg,” he said. “We know our situation, both good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, better than anybody else.”

Another proposal in the application would give the city the first opportunity to purchase a property on which it has a demolition lien from the sheriff’s office before it is put out for bid. The city would pay the taxes owed rather than having to bid against other buyers and could sell or use the property for urban renewal, thereby recovering at least some of the demolition expense.

The application also proposes requiring the city’s demolition lien to be paid in addition to the property tax lien before the sheriff’s department releases a certificate of sale or deed.

A Public Works Committee meeting will be held an hour before the council session, in the small conference room next to council chambers. An Urban Renewal Authority meeting will follow the council meeting.