WILLIAMSON — The Williamson City Council heard the details of West Virginia’s Municipal Home Rule program during their recent regular session Thursday, July 23.
Home Rule is a program through the West Virginia Municipal League that gives municipalities in the Mountain State more leeway in implementing certain ordinances and regulations not available under the normal “one-size-fits-all” statutes that apply to all municipalities. The program also allows cities and towns to implement a 1% sales tax on all items — aside from food — sold within city limits.
That 1% sales tax in communities operating under home rule runs concurrently with West Virginia’s 6% state sales tax.
The Home Rule program began in 2007 as a pilot in Bridgeport, Huntington, Charleston and Wheeling. It was later expanded for other municipalities throughout the state and, in March 2019, the West Virginia Legislature voted to make the program permanent.
Currently, around 40 West Virginia municipalities are operating with home rule provisions in place. The closest one to Williamson is Logan, who was accepted into the program Nov. 20, 2019, and began operating under it on July 1.
The town of Man, another municipality in neighboring Logan County, was also recently accepted into home rule and will begin operating under it on July 1, 2021.
Williamson’s city attorney Nathan Brown, who is also a member of the West Virginia House Delegates representing Mingo County, explained the process of becoming a home rule city, if council would wish to pursue it.
“In general, this program is put in place to give municipalities more latitude in how they operate as a city,” Brown said. “It’s not intended to enlarge the size of government. It’s not intended to give more power to one person, or to even the council. There’s still things that have to be followed and adhered to.”
Brown noted that even if the council pursues it and Williamson is accepted into the program, there is no requirement that it ever must be implemented.
“It’s just another tool the council can have to govern this city,” Brown said.
If Williamson’s council ever wished to pursue the program, they would have to identify specific reasons they wish to enter the program as well as identify areas the extra revenue from the 1% sales tax would be used for. They would then need to reduce certain business and occupancy (B&O) taxes in order to comply with the program.
Afterward, a series of public hearings would have to be scheduled. Finally, the council would choose whether or not to adopt the home rule ordinance proposal, and if they did, they would be scheduled for a hearing in front of the state’s Home Rule Board, which would ultimately decide if Williamson is accepted into the program.
Williamson Mayor Charlie Hatfield expressed his support for the program.
“If anyone doubts it, all you’ve got to do is look to Huntington, and if any of you travel as far north as Bridgeport, those folks will tell you the home rule provisions allowed them to grow phenomenally,” Hatfield said.
Councilman Randy Price, however, expressed his opposition to the program and said he would not be in favor of pursuing it if it comes to a council vote.
“This is a fact, and you can look it up on a computer, people who live in home rule cities pay higher taxes and higher fees than those who live in traditional cities,” Price said. “That’s a fact … other states mandate that a city under 50,000 in population must make it a valid initiative to be voted on by the citizens affected to become a home rule city. Now, if West Virginia would do that and the people wanted to vote on it, I’d be all for it, but as it stands right now, I will not support it.”