Cities discuss Home Rule

With the deadline to apply for the Municipal Home Rule Program just around the corner, local governments are weighing in on their options and deciding if Home Rule is right for their city.

Buckhannon hopes to be one of the cities accepted into the Municpal Home Rule Program, which allows a local government more flexibility in passing its own laws within the limits of state and federal constitutions.

While Philippi Mayor Jerry Mouser said that Home Rule might one day be the state standard, he said he doesn’t think that applying for it is the right move for Philippi just yet. He said that only four original West Virginia cities participated in the beginning, and only 16 more cities will be accepted to join it.

“I’m not sure that (Philippi City Council will apply) right at this point in time,” Mouser said. “As I understand Home Rule, you have to demonstrate when you apply that there is something that you do that Home Rule would make it easier and expedite the way you do it. I don’t feel right now that there is any entity that we do that would be expedited by home rule.”

But that it doesn’t mean he would not support the council members if they chose to do so.

“I’m in favor of Home Rule because I believe that local government is the best government,” Mouser said.

Mouser’s belief seems aligned with the belief of Buckhannon City Administrator Michael Doss.

“I’m under the philosophy that government works best when it’s under the people,” Doss said. “Government works best when it’s closest to the people. The closest government to the people is city government.”

Mouser said that Business & Occupations taxes could be reduced with Municipal Home Rule, allowing cities to charge an additional sales tax, but that he doesn’t think that would be in Philippi’s best interests.

“That would not be advantageous to Philippi,” Mouser said. “Plus the sales tax is a burden on the tax payer. The only place it might be an advantage would be dealing with derelict housing.”

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 said.

“We cannot, nor would we, change the form of our government,” Doss said. “That’s state law. It has to be an election by the people.”

Through Home Rule, Buckhannon would not have the authority to go against the U.S. Constitution, state laws, federal laws, federal crimes and punishments, and state crimes and punishments.

“Home Rule is not an empowerment of government, but more about an empowerment of its citizens,” Doss said. “The establishment of Home Rule lets a local municipality’s citizens decide what is best for them and allows them to use the ballot box to answer yes or no as to whether the city is going in the right direction.

“It’s a very open process,” Doss added, also saying that Home Rule requires the city to propose a piece of legislation it wants locally passed. He said that legislation would then have to be approved before the city could address those issues through Home Rule.