Weirton could join home rule program

WEIRTON – City officials are looking into the possibility of joining a home rule pilot program that already has seen many successes in four West Virginia cities.

Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie spoke to members of City Council Monday about his city’s experiences with the program and how it might benefit Weirton.

Weirton Mayor George Kondik said he thought hearing from McKenzie would help council in determining whether to move forward with the process.

“There’s a lot the city of Wheeling was able to do,” Kondik said.

In addition to Wheeling, the cities of Bridgeport, Charleston and Huntington also are participating in the pilot, which started in 2007. Weirton initially considered applying for the program six years ago, but opted not to.

In order for Weirton to take part, the state Legislature would need to renew the current program for another five years and agree to allow additional municipalities to take part.

Home rule would allow the city to break away from state code on certain issues, pending acceptance by the state on the changes.

McKenzie, who was serving in the state Senate when the home rule legislation was passed, explained West Virginia is one of the few states to not allow some form of home rule for municipalities.

After becoming mayor of Wheeling, McKenzie said he wanted to see what the city could do to turn itself around, noting its decrease in population and business.

“I wanted to throw everything out and start over,” McKenzie said.

Among the things Wheeling has done are decrease the number of business licenses from 77 to three, granting conditional-use zoning permits, being able to place liens for the collection of delinquent fees and charging a fee on long-term vacant or dilapidated structures.

Statewide, 20 of the 25 proposals from home rule cities have been enacted in some form. Three of Huntington’s four proposals have been facing legal challenges.

McKenzie said Weirton could look at what Wheeling and the other participating cities have done or come up with other proposals as part of its home rule application.

“You know Weirton,” he said. “You know what needs to be done.”

The current home rule pilot program would expire June 30 if it is not renewed by the state Legislature. If the program is renewed and expanded, any participating city would have to get approval from the Legislature for any of its proposals before they could be enacted.