PARKERSBURG - Mayor Bob Newell is asking members of Parkersburg City Council to explore the idea of home rule.
"Parkersburg needs to take a serious look at this and see what we might be able to do under home rule," Newell said.
The mayor wants many city council members to attend the West Virginia Municipal League conference in February to learn about the program and how the city may benefit.
Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling have experimented with the home rule pilot program. An audit on the program reported the cities streamlined government offices, simplified business licensing and found better ways to fund public services.
The auditors recommended the Legislature expand the program for all cities with more than 2,000 residents.
Newell thinks the city leaders should look at the idea.
When the pilot program was discussed a few years ago, Newell and council rejected the idea. But the mayor has had a change of heart. He noted the idea has now gained traction among state lawmakers.
"The local delegates and senators did not speak up in favor of this and our fear was anything we changed we would have to change back. There appears to be more thought put into it. And more support."
In November, Vienna Mayor David Nohe, who serves as state senator, R-Wood, said he favored the idea. Nohe said it didn't make sense for the state to have so much control over the cities.
There are 11 states, including West Virginia, that do not have provisions for home rule.
Newell said many who are against home rule don't understand it.
"It allows cities to do things in their cities that make sense," he said.
The big fear is that cities given additional powers of taxation will automatically enact them. Newell said that's not what's happening. He's looking at broadening the tax base.
If the city were able to impose a 1 percent sales tax, Newell said city officials could reduce B&O tax and reduce- and possibly eliminate- fees.
"It would be more business friendly," he said.
Newell said cities operating under home rule would have more leeway to handle matters related to municipal planning, zoning and demolition. Most of those rules are state mandates.
Councilman Jim Reed said he's open to exploring the concept of home rule and what it could do for the city.
"We could explore it and look at it. We could always look at things like that."
"Parkersburg ought to take a look at it, is all I am saying," Newell added. "Or we can continue to let (the state Legislature) run the cities, which hasn't been very efficient."