FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Ernie VanGilder wears two hats — as a local businessman and Marion County commissioner.
But it doesn’t matter which hat he’s wearing. VanGilder says he doesn’t like home rule, he doesn’t like the City of Fairmont’s home rule proposal and he doesn’t think the city’s done enough to educate people about it.
So he’s taken it upon himself to bring the phrase “home rule” into conversations — the sign outside his business V&W Electric on the heavily traveled Fairmont Avenue reads “Home Rule: Bad for Businesses, Bad for Residents” on one side and “No More Taxes: Stop Home Rule.”
“They had these meetings, and no one showed up,” VanGilder said. “No one in Marion County knows what home rule is. Any time the public is educated they make good decisions.
“No one showed up to read (the home rule application), but I put this sign out there and streams of people come in,” the commissioner explained. “They only had one question. ‘What’s home rule?’”
The home rule pilot program is allowing municipalities to have a little more freedom from state code restrictions to prosper, develop better services and improve the economic conditions in their city. The pilot program started with four cities, but the state Legislature has opened it up for 16 more to participate through 2019. Fairmont is one of 22 submitting applications for consideration.
Fairmont’s application was presented Monday at Bridgeport City Hall, along with ones from Morgantown, Shinnston, Buckhannon and Clarksburg. Fairmont’s proposal includes reducing retail B&O taxes, eliminating wholesale and manufacturing sales tax, and establishing a 1 percent city tax on many goods and services. There are also tax credits the city wants to offer to stimulate job creation, filling vacant buildings and preserving historic properties.
A major part of the plan is paying toward the underfunded liabilities of the police and fire pension programs and moving to a state-run system with new hires going forward.
“We’ve been down this road 100 times with tax credits,” VanGilder said. “You give them 5 to 10 years, and the businesses are gone. How many times are we going to keep doing this and keep getting the same results?
“No one minds paying their fair share,” he explained. “I don’t want to get in a riff with the city, but they have a problem, and I see that it’s a problem, but you just can’t throw money at it.”
VanGilder says he’s read the entire application and can boil it down to one word — “Hooey…