Extend Home Rule Program

Most people probably have not given a lot of thought to benefits home rule has brought to Wheeling. It is one of those exotic government terms the practice of which flies below most radars.

But a home rule law enacted by the West Virginia Legislature about four years ago has brought concrete improvements in municipal governments in Wheeling, Bridgeport, Charleston and Huntington.

A five-year test of limited home rule power in the cities was envisioned by lawmakers. Four years of it have passed and, unless the program is either extended or made permanent, it will end in about a year.

In essence, the test allows Wheeling and the three other municipal governments more flexibility than state law normally would allow in local affairs.

Here, home rule has given the city new tools to deal with vacant, dilapidated buildings and to improve the zoning permit process. Perhaps most noticeable has been a change involving economic development, however.

Before the home rule experiment, opening a new business in Wheeling was a dizzying, wearying trip through the bureaucratic jungle. As many as 77 different licenses and permits might have to be obtained.

To their credit, however, Mayor Andy McKenzie and other city officials found a way to cut that number to three, thus reducing the cost, time and frustration needed to open a business here.

State legislators this week heard testimony on the home rule pilot program. McKenzie and the mayor of Charleston explained how their communities have benefitted from the experiment. In addition, the state Municipal League urged the project be renewed – or even expanded.

Home rule – at least to the extent allowed during the past four years, has been helpful to Wheeling. Legislators should extend the program.