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Mayors want home rule made permanent

January 4, 2019
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, second from right, speaks as he is joined by Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum, right, and Delegates Sean Hornbuckle, left, and Daniel Linville during a meeting to discuss legislation that will be introduced during the West Virginia Legislature's 60-day session on Thursday at Main Street on Central in Barboursville.

BARBOURSVILLE — The mayors of Huntington, Barboursville and Milton have one big priority during the legislative session beginning next week: Make home rule permanent.

The mayors of municipalities in Cabell County met with seven of the representatives for the county Thursday in Barboursville to discuss the cities’ priorities for the upcoming session. The West Virginia Municipal League, of which Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum are president and vice president this year, also took part in the meeting to advocate for home rule.

The Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program was created by the Legislature in 2007, allowing Huntington, Charleston, Wheeling and Bridgeport to enact laws, ordinances and policies without regard for state law, with restrictions. Since then, the pilot program has expanded to 34 municipalities, including Milton.

The main idea of home rule is local governments know what is best for their cities, and what might work in Bridgeport might not work in Huntington. Home rule gives local governments flexibility to develop new solutions to problems such as aging infrastructure, police and fire pensions, and code enforcement.

“The reason we are having success right now is because of home rule,” Williams said.

The pilot program ends July 1, and each mayor wants to see the program become permanent. This would mean Barboursville, which currently is not included in the program, could take part.

State Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Delegates Matt Rohrbach, Daniel Linville, John Mandt, Evan Worrell, all Republicans, and Sean Hornbuckle and Chad Lovejoy, both Democrats, all were on board for making home rule permanent.

Woelfel and Rohrbach told Milton Mayor Tom Canterbury and Tatum they were the

faces the other legislators needed to see as they argued for home rule, rather than the bigger city of Huntington.

“This is going to be a real urban vote,” Rohrbach said. “It’s going to take some work to get it to pass.”

Rohrbach said he has already submitted the bill to make home rule permanent.

The mayors also gave the legislators a list of some other priorities.

Thanks to a meeting set up by Linville last month with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tatum said the city is going to begin exploring grant options through the USDA to sewage repair, and he requested any assistance the legislators could offer him.

Tatum also requested the legislators help Barboursville keep the U.S. Youth Soccer Tournament by helping direct some tourism funding to put artificial turf on the fields, a request of the tournament.

The soccer players will return this summer, which will fill up the hotels in the county and farther — hotels as far as Grayson, Kentucky, filled up for the last tournament. In 2020, the tournament will rebid the location, and even if it relocated to the new Shawnee Sports Complex in St. Albans, that will take funding away from Cabell County, Tatum said.

He said the city is willing to put some skin in the game and fund some of the turf project, but it will need help to do all of the fields plus do upgrades to the facilities.

During the meeting, Woelfel and Rohrbach also shared that Huntington City Attorney Scott Damron is helping them craft legislation regarding sober living houses.

Rohrbach said the legislation will provide “minimal, acceptable standards” for sober living houses, aimed at protecting the individuals who will reside in those types of residences. He said the governor supports the effort and a bill should be submitted as early as Thursday, Jan. 10.

The legislative session begins Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.