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St. Albans to submit Home Rule plan

By By Matthew Hill

For the Gazette

St. Albans City Council members voted unanimously Monday to submit the city’s Home Rule Pilot Program Plan to the state’s Municipal Home Rule Board.

Before the start of Monday’s meeting, the city held a second public hearing on the matter. The first public hearing occurred July 7.

The program shifts power from the state to the local level and gives municipalities a larger say in how they govern.

It began as a five-year pilot program in Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling. Last year, the Legislature continued the program until July 1, 2019, and allowed up to 20 municipalities to participate.

Ward 7 Councilman Desper Lemon asked if St. Albans would be granted any additional power to enforce laws against dilapidated houses and junk cars.

“Not in the initial application,” Attorney John Stump explained.

“That was a recurring theme throughout all municipalities in the state. The intention is to keep it more streamlined in the application. You deal with Constitutional issues with property takings. Once Home Rule is granted, the city can solicit additional proposals,” Stump said.

Stump said St. Albans’ Home Rule application is unique in that it does not include implementation of a one-percent sales tax. “That was a focus of many municipalities. We’ll see what the pleasure of the board is,” he mused.

Lemon asked about the case of a house damaged by fire in January 2009. The scorched home became tied up in a divorce dispute, and Lemon said the city was told that it had no authority until the divorce was settled.

Stump said nothing in the current application would address that type of situation, describing it as featuring extenuating circumstances.

He told council members that they were simply voting Monday to approve the final form of the application.

The city will formally present its application to the board on Aug. 4 or Aug. 5, Mayor Dick Callaway explained after the meeting. Stump predicted that the city could realistically know the fate of its acceptance by the start of 2015.

The acceptance process takes time, Stump said. “It’s administered by the [state] Department of Commerce. There’s not an executive director waiting for these to come in, hand them to their lawyer and bless them. They are taking it one step at a time.”

Stump said that, once municipalities are notified of acceptance, they still must prepare the ordinances necessary for implementation of the proposals in their application. Those are submitted to the board for review. “You then bring them back [to council] and enact them with two readings,” Stump clarified.

Callaway spoke of some frustration with how the Home Rule legislation was crafted. Stump and Callaway said the a city’s Home Rule status be renewed every five years.

City resident Ed Maquire asked how much the city had spent on the Home Rule application process, and Stump and city officials said no additional city funds had been expended toward the endeavor.

Robert Keiffer of Ward 1 and Garry Pennington of Ward 9 were not present for Monday’s meeting.

In other business:

n Council members approved payment of current invoices in the amount of $15,339.10.

n City council agreed to pay an invoice to Worldwide Equipment for $3,373.24 for repair to Public Works Truck #700.

n Ward 8’s Kevin Pennington announced that Roadside Park will be showing the movie “Despicable Me 2” this Saturday after dark.

n Cheryl Thomas, of Ward 4, told of the upcoming fourth annual celebration of the National Night Out for safety on Aug. 5, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event will be held in the Mayberry’s restaurant parking lot, she said.

n Ward 6’s Loretta Griffith invited everyone to the 34th anniversary of the Hansford Senior Center on Aug. 4.

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