Lawmaker Calls for County Home Rule To Be Considered

WHEELING – Members of the West Virginia Legislature soon could consider an idea to give counties home rule authority to deal with transportation issues in their communities.

The idea for county home rule originated in Monongalia County, where there is a need to address excessive traffic issues, said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. He said the move is worth considering as Ohio County seeks a means to build a second interchange at The Highlands and other areas of the state must address highway needs.

“It’s a novel concept that’s not been done before,” Kessler said. “I’m ready to take a look at it. We have to be willing to take a look at creative things. … Conceptually, I’m ready to review if it helps transportation issues in the state. If it supports economic development, I’m willing to take a look at it.

Kessler said he has met with a focus group in Morgantown that is crafting a bill, but they have yet to complete a draft of the legislation.

“The devil is in the details,” Kessler said.

Sen. Robert Beach, D-Monongalia, said he also is awaiting the county home rule bill, and will decide after reading it whether he will introduce it during the current legislative session.

He said plans for county home rule could be set up similarly to tax increment financing districts, where county commissions would devise a plan and send it to the Department of Highways for approval. This could provide a means for state and local governments to work together to fund road projects, according to Beach.

“This group in Morgantown struck on this idea, and it could be a good fit for other counties,” he said. “We’re one of the few states where the state has the sole responsibility for highways. It wouldn’t hurt if we want to take a look at this.”

If the bill is not introduced before the regular session ends on March 8, lawmakers could examine proposed legislation during the summer and fall and make necessary tweaks, Beach said.