Moundsville Mulls Uses for Home Rule

MOUNDSVILLE – A half-percent sales tax and the ability to better deal with dilapidated buildings highlight some of the proposals Moundsville will seek to enact if admitted as one of West Virginia’s next home rule cities.

Mayor Eugene Saunders and City Manager Deanna Hess said they believe their home rule application reflects a “responsible approach” to changing how the city operates.

“This would give us more control on dealing with dilapidated buildings. Plus, we want to be more business friendly,” Saunders said of Moundsville’s efforts to become one of 16 potential West Virginia cities permitted to participate in the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program.

Wheeling, Charleston, Huntington and Bridgeport received the right to home rule in 2008. The state is now allowing 16 more West Virginia cities to participate in the program, so Saunders is hopeful Moundsville will make the cut.

City Council will hold a public hearing regarding the home rule application at 7 p.m. April 1 in council chambers at the Municipal Building, 800 Sixth St. The earliest council could submit its application would be following the April 15 council meeting.

“If we are approved for the program, then we will have to sit down and discuss the individual ordinances,” he said.

If admitted to the program, Moundsville’s home rule application shows city officials are looking to:

– impose a 0.5-percent sales tax they believe could yield more than $1 million in annual revenue;

– have the “flexibility” to determine business and occupation tax rates;

– have the right to “repair, alter or demolish” properties that owners are not maintaining;

– increase the city’s power to collect delinquent fees, with officials now estimating they have more than $253,000 worth of fees that are more than 90 days past due; and

– reduce its number of business licenses from 45 to only a few.

Wheeling recently used its home rule authority to apply a 0.5-percent sales tax. In Moundsville’s application, officials state their belief that the city’s retail businesses are “able to support a small increase in sales tax,” which they believe could replace some of their B&O revenue if they reduced that rate.

“We would not automatically reduce the B&O. We would have to see how much the sales tax is actually bringing in before we go down that road,” Saunders said.

The home rule application states that maximum B&O rates are the same as they were in 1959 and “no longer reflect current economic conditions.” City code shows Moundsville’s B&O rates are 30 cents for every $100 worth of manufacturing, while there are numerous classifications for other types of business.

Saunders estimated the city of 9,173 residents has at least 40 dilapidated structures. The home rule ordinance would allow Moundsville city workers to, following due notice, demolish dilapidated property while imposing a lien on the land for the demolition costs. The ordinance to give the city more power to collect liens could then apply as a measure for the city to recoup the demolition funds.

Via its home rule plan, Wheeling established a vacant building registration program that includes an escalating fee structure for owners who let their buildings continue to sit empty, regardless of their condition.

Finally, Moundsville would like to reduce its number of business licenses from 45 to only a few.

Prior to gaining home rule power, Wheeling had 77 different business licenses for everything from fortune telling to junk dealing and coin-operated toilet lockers. Home rule permitted the city to cut licenses to just three, thus reducing paperwork and administrative time.

Under home rule, cities can levy taxes or enact new laws as long as they do not contradict the U.S. or West Virginia constitutions or violate portions of West Virginia Code dealing with the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, crimes and punishments and criminal procedures.

If the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Board accepts Moundsville to the program, the provisions of the application do not automatically become law.

Rather, city council would still need to approve each individual ordinance. Once the board approves a city’s plan, the city cannot change it unless the board agrees.