MONTGOMERY — Town officials are putting the finishing touches on an application for the Municipal Home Rule Program.
According to Mayor Greg Ingram, town council has already adopted the application for home rule and it has gone through two readings. A public hearing is set for the matter on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at town hall. (Editor's note: The earlier announced date of Sept. 3 was changed to Sept. 24 on Monday, Aug. 12.)
At the hearing, the public can comment on or express concerns about the application, or simply seek more details, Ingram said.
“The application will be submitted to the Department of Revenue, go before a hearing board and the plan has to be accepted, modified or rejected.”
The West Virginia Legislature created the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program in 2007. It gives participating municipalities some latitude in the manner in which they implement ordinances, rules and regulations. Bridgeport, Charleston, Wheeling and Huntington were accepted as the first participants in the program. More recently, municipalities such as Oak Hill and Beckley were accepted.
Under Senate Bill 4, the 2019 West Virginia Legislature made the pilot program permanent. All West Virginia municipalities are eligible, although just four Class IV municipalities can be admitted annually. A population of 2,000 residents or less comprises a Class IV town or village, of which Montgomery is one.
The Municipal Home Rule Program is administered by the West Virginia Home Rule Board under the auspices of the West Virginia Department of Revenue.
According to Ingram, the areas of concentration for Montgomery in its initial application will include:
• Making intergovernmental agreements by resolution in order to save time;
• Gaining the ability to more easily place liens locally for actions taken in regard to eyesores and dilapidated buildings;
• Obtaining the right of first refusal from county tax departments on any property in Montgomery that is up for tax sale (and to secure the right to sell property outright and not have to auction it);
• And the imposition of a municipal sales tax, which is allowed by home rule, of one percent on anything sold in Montgomery. The municipal sales tax would override the B&O tax structure, the mayor said. The pros and cons of that tax are still being assessed.
Since parts of Montgomery are governed by either Kanawha or Fayette county, another aim is to seek uniformity in how ordinances affect people locally, he said.
Ingram feels home rule would benefit Montgomery.
“It has proven that it works, that cities can govern themselves without legislative interference,” he said. “We’re looking for an opportunity to start out with these four issues.
“The ideas and concepts (of the home rule application) are complete, the supporting documentation is still a work in progress. I think home rule would give Montgomery the right to manage themselves; it would give us the right to let the citizens tell their government what rules they want imposed and what they don’t. And it’s just an extra tool in our toolbox.”
Municipalities participating in the Municipal Home Rule Program can’t pass an ordinance, act, resolution, rule or regulation that is contrary to areas such as environmental law, laws governing bidding on government construction and other contracts, the Freedom of Information Act, the Open Governmental Proceedings Act, laws governing wages for construction of public improvements, or the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of West Virginia.
Beginning July 1, 2019, each municipality taking part in the program must pay a $2,000 annual fee until the home rule operations fund has a balance of at least $200,000.
For more on home rule, visit https://revenue.wv.gov/homerule/Pages/default.aspx. Or, the following is the chapter in W.Va. Code pertaining to home rule: http://www.wvlegislature.gov/wvcode/ChapterEntire.cfm?chap=8&art=1&section=5A#1
The next meeting of the Municipal Home Rule Board is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14.
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According to Ingram, Montgomery imposed a user fee beginning July 1. The fee will unfold as follows — A total of $1 per week will be assessed on anyone who works in but doesn’t reside in the town. That will increase to $1.50 weekly on July 1, 2020, and it will raise to $2 weekly on July 1, 2021.
“The money, by ordinance, will be dedicated to its own account strictly to make things more convenient for our working public,” Ingram said. That would be specifically in areas such as streets, police department and street department, he noted.
Paving some streets in town is a big goal, Ingram said. In his three years in office, Ingram says the only paving completed was some patchwork last year on Hillcrest Drive.
The primary area of concentration for potential paving projects is four-way intersections in town. “All the four-way intersections are extremely hazardous,” he said.
The second priority is paving in the vicinity of Montgomery General Hospital.
Ingram said levy funds have been used to prop up necessary work done by the street department. Some funds also come from a capital expense account. The user fee will help supplement that money somewhat. “Altogether, they don’t equal $100,000, so it’s going to be a slow process,” Ingram said.
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In the future, Ingram expects a move of town hall from its current location to the City National Bank building, which was donated to Montgomery.
“There’s no ink on the paper yet, but I’m 99 percent sure it’s going to happen,” Ingram said. He hopes the move can occur “as soon as possible.” Some remodeling will have to occur, he said.
The Tabit Building, which was donated by the family of longtime local attorney Louis R. Tabit in 2016, was originally earmarked for a new town hall location. It, in fact, is smaller than the current town hall site, said Ingram. “And we have people in closets in this building.”
If the town maintains ownership of the Tabit Building going forward, a future move could result in the police department being located there, said Ingram.
Tabit, a longtime attorney and civic leader, passed away on Dec. 2, 2014. He was a lifelong resident of Montgomery.
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Effective Aug. 1, town hall office hours changed to 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday.
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