Consider ‘Home Rule’ for Counties

“Home rule” has worked well for several West Virginia cities, including Wheeling, during the past few years. Why not provide similar flexibility for county governments?

A group of Monongalia County leaders reportedly is preparing a bill on the subject for consideration by state legislators. State Sen. Robert Beach, D-Monongalia, may introduce the measure.

Funding for highway improvements seems to be the Monongalia County group’s focus, to judge by what Beach told our reporter. Noting West Virginia “is one of the few states where the state has sole responsibility for highways,” he said the county home rule plan could offer more flexibility in funding road projects.

Municipal-level home rule involves a variety of aspects of government, ranging from taxation to dilapidated buildings. Wheeling has taken advantage of home rule authority on both those matters and others, including simplifying local regulations.

Home rule for cities worked so well as a pilot program that legislators now are considering expanding it to include other municipalities.

Monongalia County’s concern about funding new roads for economic development is shared here in the Northern Panhandle. Ohio County officials would like to build a new Interstate 70 interchange at The Highlands, but the state does not have money available for the work. As we have reported, local leaders want to expand the tax increment financing district at The Highlands to provide more local money.

Beach said a county home rule program could involve TIF projects.

State Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, told our reporter he is considering the proposal but wants more specifics. The devil is in the details,” he pointed out.

Kessler is right about that. Until the Monongalia County plan is put into writing and lawmakers can see precisely what is envisioned, it would be unwise to give unqualified endorsement to the proposal.

Still, it sounds as if it could provide a way for counties to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps – instead of relying on the state – when new roads are needed for economic development. Legislators should consider the proposal as soon as possible.