IN 2007, the West Virginia Legislature approved the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. The state's existing highly centralized government limits the taxing authority and other powers of cities, towns and villages.
The idea of the pilot was to allow selected cities to experiment, under supervision of a state board, with their own ways to reduce taxes, streamline regulations, collect delinquent fees and target abandoned and blighted buildings.
Four municipalities - Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling - participated in the first five-year pilot with great results, as detailed in Tuesday's Daily Mail by reporter Matt Murphy.
"We've reduced the amount of bureaucracy and licenses and fees," said Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie. "The reason it is great is because it empowers local government and local residents. Frankly, the state just can't get it done."
"The beauty of home rule is we can now craft out ordinances to meet the immediate needs of our community," said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams. "What we need in Huntington is not necessarily what they need in Ritchie County."
Their comments echo the positive results of a 2012 audit following the end of the initial five-year pilot. The audit found that the participating cities successfully tackled blight, simplified business licensing and strengthened their finances.
The 2013 Legislature added a second five-year pilot program and expanded it to 20 cities, including the four already participating. The municipal Home Rule board will begin taking detailed applications from interested cities in January, with the application deadline of June 1, 2014.
Why the baby steps? With results like those shown from the initial pilot, why not expand home rule more rapidly so that all cities that wish to can shake off the many stifling regulations imposed by an overbearing centralized state government and make their own changes sooner rather than later?