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Home rule board asked to include more cities

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Members of the Home Rule Board heard one theme repeated several times Monday: the West Virginia Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II should be opened to all applicants.

“When I look at the names of the municipalities that have applied, I don’t see competitors – I see friends who all deserve to be in the program,” Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster said.

Bath, Martinsburg, Charles Town and Ranson made their presentations to the Home Rule Board Monday at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

This was the last of five regional meetings the Home Rule Board held across the state to hear presentations, ask questions and take public comments on the 22 applications from municipalities that want to take part in the second phase of the Home Rule program.

“It would be great to see all the cities presenting today to become Home Rule cities,” Martinsburg Mayor George Karos told the Home Rule Board members.

Charles Town and Ranson had a special interest in seeing more cities selected for the program.

Sharing a common border and common issues, the two cities originally had asked to submit a joint application to be part of the Home Rule program. That request was denied, but they submitted practically identical applications that included several inter-jurisdictional proposals.

“The Legislature should get together to expand the program to all who applied,” Matt Ward told the Home Rule Board. He is a Charles Town resident and chief executive officer of Sustainable Strategies DC, which helped Charles Town and Ranson prepare their separate, but coordinated applications.

The original Home Rule program was enacted by the state Legislature in 2007. It was open to five cities, but only four applied – Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling.

The original program was for five years, running from 2008 to 2013.

A legislative audit found that the program was an unqualified success and recommended that the pilot program be allowed to lapse, that the program be made permanent and it be open to all municipalities in the state.

However, lawmakers extended the program for another five years, starting in 2015, and expanded the number of municipalities that could take part to 20, including the original four cities, leaving up to 16 more slots.

“The Legislature should have done what the audit said,” Home Rule Board member Chris Fletcher said Monday.

Home Rule Board Chairman Patsy Trecost said all the board members feel the same way as Fletcher.

“Traveling around the state, hearing the presentations, has been quite educational,” he said Monday. “Everyone has needs and we see cities fighting the same battles like collection of fees and dilapidated buildings.”

Contacted by phone Monday evening, state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who is chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee, said it is likely the program will be opened to more cities in the future.

“But let the process work,” he said. “We would consider opening it up to more cities. I don’t know if it would be for all the ones that applied, because you have to look at the applications, but I would be open to that idea.”

The Home Rule legislation has to go through the Government Organization Committee. Snyder was in Charleston for legislative interim committee meetings and could not attend the presentations. He is an ex-officio, nonvoting member of the Home Rule Board.

“I hope all the cities in the Eastern Panhandle make it,” Snyder said. “Charles Town and Ranson are working very closely together and they should be commended for that.”

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