PARKERSBURG - A new report suggests West Virginia has found a successful way to grant more government power to cities.
Legislative auditors have concluded the recent pilot program extending home rule proved beneficial enough to expand statewide. They presented their findings Tuesday to a pair of House-Senate oversight committees.
Dave Nohe, mayor of Vienna and senator from the Third District, said he favors the program that allows the citizens of a city to have more local control.
"It doesn't make sense for the state to have so much control over cities," he said Tuesday. "We have lawyers and insurance people from all walks of life telling us what to do but they have no experience in administering a city nor know how it works; it doesn't make sense."
Nohe said a recent example would be Parkersburg enacting a user fee.
"I do not like them and it hurts the less fortunate, but it was the only option offered to the city," he said. "But the people voted and brought the same administration back, showing they felt the administration did the right thing."
Nohe said he has been an advocate to allow cities to keep a share of the sales tax generated rather than allow an additional sales tax.
"I think the system is so wrong," he said. "We can't, as the people, control the money flow into the cities."
Jean Ford, mayor of Williamstown, said the city council has not discussed what it would like to be able to do under an expanded home rule law. Ford said it is too early to begin to speculate on what cities could do because no law has been passed.
"To do more within reason is always beneficial to us and to do what is good for the city and residents with a small city like Williamstown is good," she said. "It would depend on what authority we would be granted and how that authority would benefit us."
Ford said the council did not discuss the changes in the past since there was a lot of negative information about home rule and confusion with metro government proposals.
Bob Newell, mayor of Parkersburg, said the home rule would give more power to the cities in how the city is run.
"Home rule would be good," he said. "The Legislature has no idea of how a city operates. It is different from the state government; this will give us more latitude to run our cities."
According to the report, West Virginia has a very centralized government. The five-year pilot program allowed four cities, Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling, to experiment with increased authority.
The audit report says these cities streamlined government offices, simplified business licensing and found better ways to fund public services.
Auditors recommend the Legislature allow for expanded home rule for all cities with more than 2,000 residents. It also advises allowing the program's oversight board to shut down as scheduled in July 2013 while keeping the program's limits on municipal power.