Home Rule procedures unveiled

BUCKHANNON – Officials on Thursday unveiled the first glimpse of the policies and procedures the city of Buckhannon would implement should it be chosen to participate in the state’s Municipal Home Rule Program.

City administrator Michael Doss updated Buckhannon City Council on the progress he’s made in completing the city’s application to be part of the program, which allows a local government more flexibility in passing its own laws within the limits of state and federal constitutions.

Following a five-year trial run in four cities – Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling – the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Program is expanding to allow more communities to participate in the program, according to information on the West Virginia Municipal League’s website. Should its application be accepted, Buckhannon would be one of 20 communities in the Mountain State operating under the umbrella of Home Rule.

Doss described four “cornerstones” outlined in the city’s application at Thursday’s council meeting.

“We’re looking at establishing an enterprise zone for both commercial and industrial development,” Doss told council, “and this would include an ad valorem or property tax credits for new, relocating or expanding commercial and industrial business tied to gross capital investment and full-time employment.”

The second area of concentration, Doss said, would establish the city’s ability to “sell, lease or dispose of” municipal property via online auctions as an alternative to regular public auctions.

The third prong of the home rule application would authorize the city to abate property nuisances, such as dilapidated or unkempt properties “by directly assessing property taxes to compensate for clean-up expenditures associated with such properties,” he said.

Lastly, the city is asking to establish provisions within its police and fire civil service organizations that would empower it to hire part-time police officers and firefighters to assist with law enforcement and enhance public safety. Doss said the city also wants to be able to “forgo the maximum hiring range of 40 years of age as a means of employment,” or, in other words, hire part-time police officers and firefighters who are over age 40.

“Those are the four cornerstones of our application,” Doss said. “If any council member would like to add something to that, or take away something from that, I would be happy to discuss that.

“Again, we’re not looking at any tax increases, and we’re not looking at any change in structures of government or anything that might be going on out there,” he added.

The Municipal Home Rule Board will begin accepting applications in January 2014, and the deadline to apply is June 1, 2014.

Cities participating in the Municipal Home Rule program cannot pass an ordinance, act, resolution, rule or regulation that contradicts environmental law, the Freedom of Information Act, the Open Governmental Proceedings Act, the municipality’s written plan, bidding on government construction and other contracts or wages for the construction of public improvements, Doss has previously emphasized.