Home Rule May Help Moundsville

Moundsville officials are right to be interested in the state “home rule” program, if only for the reason some already have discussed.

Like most communities in our area, Moundsville has been challenged in dealing with owners of rundown buildings. Existing state law does not allow municipalities much flexibility in policing dilapidated structures.

But Wheeling is one of four cities that participated in the state home rule pilot program (the others are Charleston, Huntington and Bridgeport). It has had some success in using home rule authority to crack down on owners of buildings that are health and/or safety hazards.

In essence, home rule allows officials in participating municipalities to bypass some state statutes that in the past have limited local authority. Wheeling has used home rule for, among other things, altering tax policy and dealing with dilapidated structures.

After home rule proved successful in the four pilot-program cities, legislators agreed to expand it to another 16 municipalities. Applications for participation will be accepted between Jan. 1 and June 1.

Moundsville Mayor Gene Saunders believes home rule will allow the city to deal more effectively with vacant and abandoned structures. Participation in the program “will give the city more power and … more authority,” he said during a City Council meeting this week.

Saunders also said city officials are planning to apply for participation in the program.

Good. But home rule could help Moundsville in other ways, too. For example, it could be used to provide some tax relief to job-creating businesses.

Home rule has safeguards against abusive local governments. Even Moundsville’s application for the program will be open to public comment and will have to be approved by a vote of council. City officials who incur residents’ displeasure always can be removed during elections.

In effect, home rule merely gives local governments more control over their communities’ destinies. Moundsville should take full advantage of that.