Some West Virginia lawmakers want local governments to consider consolidation — and they’re offering financial reasons to do so.
Senate Bill 138 passed the Senate Finance Committee on Monday and is headed to the Senate floor for a second straight year.
Legislators passed a law in 2006 to let local governments consolidate, and save money by eliminating duplicated or unneeded services. No county, city or town has tried it yet.
“Perhaps a little incentive would encourage them to do it,” said Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, who has sponsored similar bills in the past three years. The lead sponsor of this year’s bill is Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.
Under the bill, municipalities and counties that consolidate would be eligible for a number of financial incentives, including:
- Matching state funds of 10 percent of contributions to public employee pension funds for 10 years.
- Two complete audits by the State Auditor’s Office to uncover any additional savings.
- Preference on road construction or maintenance projects pending before the Division of Highways.
- The ability to impose a 1 percent sales tax, so long as the combined state and local sales taxes do not exceed 7 percent.
- A 10 percent state match on regional jail costs for 10 years.
The 2006 law, called the Consolidated Local Government Act, was enacted at the behest of Brooks McCabe, then a Kanawha state senator and now a member of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Fourteen years later, Palumbo is advocating for financial incentives to spur the process — although he noted, “I don’t think we could or should force them to do it.”
The bill has passed the Senate the past two years, including by a 32-0 vote last year, but it has not been taken up in the House of Delegates. Palumbo hopes that, with Blair as lead sponsor, the House might pay attention this year.
Blair said he had reintroduced several bills this year that had advanced from his Senate Finance Committee last year but died in the House.
“You’re the one that’s done the work. It’s your idea,” Blair told Palumbo in encouraging him to sign on as a co-sponsor.
The state Municipal Pensions Oversight Board has estimated if all 31 cities with municipal police and fire pension funds opted to consolidate with neighboring cities or counties, the state's 10 percent pension match could cost the state between $5.2 million and $5.6 million .
Last year, the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation concluded it could not estimate how much the state's 10 percent match on regional jail expenses might cost. They said there was no way to determine which counties might consolidate, or to project how many jail days those counties would be billed for over the next decade.