Home rule clears first reading

PARKERSBURG – It didn’t generate any discussion Tuesday night, but Mayor Bob Newell said City Council’s vote on applying to West Virginia’s expanded home rule program was an historic one.

“This is probably the most important vote (by) the City Council of Parkersburg since they changed the form of government to the strong mayor form,” Newell said during his executive message at the start of council’s regular meeting.

“So, no pressure,” he added to a few laughs.

All nine council members voted in favor of the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the mayor to submit an application and plan to the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Board. If accepted as one of the 16 new cities in the program, Parkersburg would be able to pass laws that differ from the state code that regularly dictates taxing and other authority for municipalities.

City officials have said acceptance into the program will allow Parkersburg to pass laws tailored to its needs, which differ from other cities in the state.

The Parkersburg application calls for elimination of the business and occupation tax on manufacturing, natural gas and electric, light and power and reduction of the B&O on retail businesses and restaurants by 30 percent in exchange for implementation of a 1 percent sales tax.

The B&O reductions are expected to cost the city about $2.1 million in revenue while the rough estimate for the sales tax revenue is $4.7 million. Newell has said that additional B&O reductions are possible once the actual sales tax revenue is established.

Other provisions in the application call for the merging of the Board of Zoning Appeals and Municipal Planning Commission and changes aimed at helping the city recover its expenses from demolishing abandoned property.

Newell said last week the importance of Tuesday’s vote, and the second reading on May 20, is getting the city’s application in by the June 1 deadline. Councilman John Kelly has said he’d like to see changes in what’s proposed but would wait to address them if and when the city is accepted.

A required public hearing was scheduled during Tuesday’s meeting, but no one opted to speak. Council members took the unanimous vote without any discussion.

After the meeting, council Vice President Jim Reed noted members already gave their blessing to preparing the application last year.

“We discussed it pretty thoroughly in finance” in April, he added.

Council also unanimously approved a resolution for a 50-year lease of property at Blizzard Drive Park for the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library to build a new south Parkersburg branch. The rate for the lease is $1 a year.

Construction is expected to start in July or August, with the anticipated opening date in the summer of 2015.

Prior to the council meeting, the Public Works Committee heard from a Fourth Avenue resident who wants the city to reimburse him half the cost of repairs to a culvert that runs underneath a city street and his front yard.

Gary Traugh said he’s been struggling with the issue for about 15 years and finally spent $15,000 last year to have new pipes installed to replace the clay pipes that have deteriorated over the years, resulting in sinkholes in his yard. He argued that since the pipes begin under Adams Street, which runs adjacent to his property, and carry water beneath his yard, the city bears some of the responsibility.

“If the pipes weren’t there, that city street would have a six-foot ditch in it,” he said.

City attorney Joe Santer disagreed, saying that since the culverts follow an existing creek, the city’s responsibility ends when the water leaves its property.

The existence of the pipe, which apparently was installed years before the city annexed the area, “doesn’t prohibit us from putting water into the natural waterway,” he said.

The committee voted 3-2, with members Mike Reynolds and Reed opposed, to table the issue until a June 10 meeting.

“I think it’s more of an aesthetics issue, and it’s on private property,” Reynolds said.

Reed and committee member J.R. Carpenter spoke with Traugh about coming out to look at the property.