Lawmakers asked the officials about potential critics of home rule. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones cited the cities' newfound power to require the owners of vacant properties to register them. Registry programs charge owners fees that escalate the longer a building stands empty, to push them to restore or demolish it. The measure is one of five that emerged from the program and can now be adopted by any municipality in the state.
"You might find a landlord or two that doesn't want to obey the law, or doesn't want to have his property brought up to the standard of various neighborhoods,'' said Jones, a Republican and mayor of the state's most populous city and its capital. "That would be the only complaint, because the neighbors want the houses fixed.''
The Municipal League supports continuing to exclude annexation from the range of topics that can be pursued within the pilot program.
"Annexation laws are working well and do not have to be invoked for change under home rule,'' Dooley told the joint Government Organization subcommittee last week.
But Dooley and city officials are urging lawmakers not to close the door on allowing tax changes. Huntington faces a legal challenge over its attempt to replace a $3-a-week user fee with a 1 percent occupation tax under home rule. That has spurred concerns that revenue-strapped cities would seek to hike taxes on residents and employers.
Huntington Mayor-elect Steve Williams considers the occupation tax a dead issue. The Democrat told the lawmakers that he plans to work with city council to rescind it and resolve the lawsuit. He also cited how Huntington cut an existing tax on service and retail businesses while eliminating it for manufacturers, all through the pilot program.
"There's another side to that tax reform package that did not get much attention, but that side has been tremendously successful,'' said Williams, who like McKenzie and Jones is also a former legislator. "Keep taxation as part of this. Don't wall it off from us.''
Dooley echoed Williams' point. She also said that while the tax issue may not be behind the defeat of Mayor Kim Wolfe in November, the election result underscores another reality about home rule.
"If the citizens of a municipality disagree with the decisions being made, they'll vote them out. We know that, and that is home rule,'' Dooley said. "Really, it's letting the citizens determine their destiny.''